Foreign Minister Supports ASEAN Efforts to Maintain Regional Stability

Cambodia's Foreign Minister Sok Chenda Sophea (C) sits during the ASEAN Foreign Ministers' (AMM) retreat meeting in Luang Prabang on January 29, 2024. Photo by TANG CHHIN SOTHY and TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP

PHNOM PENH – Foreign Minister Sok Chenda Sophea has stressed the importance of strengthening ASEAN’s centrality and the use of ASEAN-led mechanisms in maintaining peace and security in the region amid many persisting and overlapping challenges, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

Sophea attended the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat on Jan. 29 in the Laotian city of Luang Prabang. It was his first time since he was appointed as the chief of the Cambodian diplomacy in August 2023.

Following the retreat, he highlighted growing geopolitical and geoeconomic competition among great powers on top of many persistent and overlapping challenges. Such issues cause concerns and anxiety for many countries around the world, according to the ministry’s outcome statement.

“In this context, [the minister] reiterated the importance of further strengthening ASEAN centrality, and making use of ASEAN-led mechanisms to build strategic trust and deepen cooperation between ASEAN and its partners in order to maintain and promote peace, stability and prosperity in the region and beyond,” the ministry said in a statement on Jan. 30.

For the first time since mid-2021, Myanmar sent a representative to the Foreign Ministers’ Retreat, in the person of Malar Than Htike, the permanent secretary of Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry.

Burmese political representatives have been barred from attending high-level ASEAN meetings as a consequence of the coup which ousted the elected civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, in February 2021. The regional block instead offered the junta the possibility to send “non-political representatives” to attend such meetings, but Naypyidaw has reportedly always refused the offer.

“Sending a representative to the Foreign Ministers’ Retreat is a clear sign of weakness on the part of the junta. It shows that the generals fear that their ASEAN partners will engage in deeper discussions with the pro-democracy opposition, and they don't want that to happen,” said a Western diplomat on condition of anonymity.

Foreign Minister Sok Chenda Sophea welcomed the initiatives led by Laos, the ASEAN Chair for 2024, to facilitate the implementation of the five-point consensus (5PC), the sole measure the block had taken to try to lead to peace resolution in Myanmar, where civil war has been raging for three years.

He also welcomed the initiative by Thailand and Myanmar to scale up humanitarian assistance under the ASEAN Humanitarian Assistance Centre scheme, to provide a much-needed support

to those who have been affected by the conflict, especially in the border areas, the ministry said.

According to the United Nations, over 2.5 million people have been internally displaced since the coup, to flee from fighting areas.  

In a statement after the meeting, the ASEAN foreign ministers said that they reaffirmed their united position that the 5PC remains the main reference to address the political crisis in Myanmar, with the sole objective of restoring peace, stability, and a Myanmar-owned and led comprehensive political resolution.

“We reaffirmed ASEAN unity and reiterated that any effort should support, in line with the 5PC and in coordination with the Chair of ASEAN,” the ministers said.

They also urged for an immediate cessation of violence in Myanmar to create a safe and conducive environment for ensuring the timely, unhindered, and safe delivery of humanitarian assistance to all those in need in Myanmar without discrimination. 

They called on all parties to exercise utmost restraint, uphold international humanitarian law and take all necessary measures to ensure the protection and safety of all civilians.  

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