Cambodia shelves first ASEAN meeting over attendance ‘difficulties’

A worker adjusts an ASEAN flag at a meeting hall in Kuala Lumpur
A worker adjusts an ASEAN flag at a meeting hall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, October 28, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

January 12, 2022

By Prak Chan Thul

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Cambodia said on Wednesday it had postponed a meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) scheduled for next week, because some ministers had expressed “difficulties” in attending.

The meeting was the first under Cambodia’s chairmanship of the 10-member bloc, which comes amid divisions on how to deal with https://reut.rs/30NQFot the military that seized power in Myanmar last year and has led a bloody crackdown on thousands of its opponents.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen met Myanmar’s military ruler https://reut.rs/3ngcp4w Min Aung Hlaing last week, the first such visit by a head of government, sparking concern that it could undermine international efforts to isolate the junta.

“The postponement is because of many ASEAN ministers are having difficulties to travel to join,” Cambodia foreign ministry spokesperson Koy Kuong told reporters, without elaborating.

Asked separately by Reuters which ministers could not attend the Jan 18-19 meeting in Siem Reap and why, Koy Kuong said he “can’t speak for them”.

Under Brunei’s chairmanship, ASEAN late last year took the unprecedented step of sidelining https://reut.rs/3n0roOZ Min Aung Hlaing from its annual leaders’ summit over his failure to honour commitments he made towards ending violence and starting a dialogue process.

The exclusion https://reut.rs/3jwe8k4 angered the junta, which said outside powers had pressured ASEAN to break its own code of consensus and non-interference.

Brunei, Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia had backed excluding the junta.

Cambodia, however, is taking “different approaches”, https://reut.rs/3K36kC4 its foreign minister, Prak Sokhonn, and said on Saturday, while denying that Hun Sen’s visit was an endorsement of the Myanmar military.

Prak Sokhonn was expecting to be appointed special ASEAN envoy to the Myanmar situation at the Siem Reap meeting.

On Saturday, he criticised the previous envoy, Erywan Yusof, as being unproductive in insisting on access to ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been convicted in recent weeks of several offences, including incitement.

(Editing by Martin Petty)