Hun Sen off to embarrassing start as ASEAN chair

Cambodian leader has misread all sides of the Myanmar crisis while alienating bloc members in a series of ill-advised moves.

On February 7, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that Myanmar’s junta had released Sean Turnell, an Australian economic adviser to deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi who was arrested days after the military coup of last year. This, Hun Sen claimed, came as a direct result of his own request for Turnell’s release, made during his controversial visit to Naypyidaw early last month.

It quickly turned out not to be true. Myanmar military spokesman Zaw Min Tun said the junta has no plans to release Turnell, whose charges carry a 14-year prison sentence. Hun Sen then backtracked and apologized for the mistake, saying it was due to receiving “wrong information.”

Either he misunderstood what he was told or he naively believed the junta’s lies. Either way, it doesn’t look good for Hun Sen. But it’s just the latest in a string of public embarrassments since he took on the ASEAN chair this year.

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