Prime Minister Hun Sen rolled out the red carpet for his Burmese counterpart’s six-hour visit to Phnom Penh on Tuesday, reaffirming his support for Burma’s military junta amid threats from European leaders to boycott the upcoming Asia-Europe Meeting if Burma attends.
“We had a very fruitful discussion, like brothers,” General Khin Nyunt, Burma’s prime minister, told reporters after meeting with Hun Sen.
Asked when the military junta would release Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest since May 2003, the general said: “Later, later.”
Hun Sen said last month that Cambodia would not join the ASEM, scheduled for Oct 8 and Oct 9 in Hanoi, if Europe continues to press for Burma’s exclusion. Cambodia, Laos and Burma were expected to participate in the biannual meeting for the first time this year along with the 10 new members of the European Union.
But some European leaders have sought to block Burma’s entry in protest of the country’s human rights and democracy record.
“It would be political suicide for European leaders to appear beside the military junta,” said one diplomat familiar with the meeting. “[British Prime Minister] Tony Blair is not going to sit at the same table as Khin Nyunt.”
John Mitchell, deputy head of mission at the British Embassy, declined to comment on the ASEM meeting Tuesday.
Although the Europeans have no problem with Cambodia or Laos attending the largely symbolic talks, Asean leaders have closed ranks to support Burma, also known as Myanmar.
Last month, Hun Sen said Cambodia would “sacrifice” its place at ASEM if the three new Asean countries cannot join at the same time.
“My opinion is that inviting Burma to sit together with us is better than leaving Burma alone…. We say ‘integration, integration and globalization,’ but to leave one country in the corner is not fair,” Hun Sen said at the time.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith reiterated those sentiments Tuesday, saying that Cambodia will join ASEM when Burma is ready.
Responding to a question about political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, Khieu Kanharith said, “We hope that the Myanmar government will find a good solution.”
Asean countries typically do not interfere with other members’ internal affairs, he added.
After arriving at Phnom Penh International Airport Monday at the tail end of a three-nation tour that included visits to Laos and Vietnam, Khin Nyunt shook the hands of government officials and foreign diplomats, including several from European nations. Hundreds of school children waved Cambodian and Burmese flags as Hun Sen and Khin Nyunt drove off for their meeting at the Council of Ministers.
During a 30-minute meeting, the two leaders discussed implementing three agreements that were signed in 1996 on tourism cooperation, air services and the establishment of tourist destinations Siem Reap and Pagan, Burma, as “sister cities,” said Eang Sophalleth, Hun Sen’s spokesman.
Hun Sen agreed to visit Burma for a Buddhism conference later this year, he added.
In a statement Monday, the Sam Rainsy Party called on Asean “to withhold the Burma membership until there is an irreversible sign of some acceptable democratization and respect for human rights in the country.”
The opposition said Burma should release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and declare a unilateral nationwide cease-fire to allow for democratic elections.