Myanmar a key focus as Asean foreign ministers gather for meeting in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH – Asean foreign ministers will begin their two-day Retreat in Cambodia on Thursday (Feb 17), with Myanmar skipping the meeting after the regional group invited only a “non-political” representative to attend.

Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan is in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, to attend the Retreat.

Dr Balakrishnan arrived in Cambodia on Tuesday to meet the country’s leaders. He called on Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a statement.

Cambodia is the Asean chair this year.

The MFA has said that the foreign ministers were expected to discuss the group’s priorities for the year, take stock of Asean’s Community-building efforts and cooperation with its external partners, and exchange views on regional and international issues.

The Retreat is the first in a series of meetings that Cambodia will be hosting as Asean chair under the theme “Asean A.C.T.: Addressing Challenges Together”.

Cambodia on Wednesday confirmed that Myanmar won’t be attending, a day after Myanmar’s ruling military junta criticised its neighbours for insisting its generals are not invited, Reuters reported.

Asean has since October only invited a “non-political” Myanmar official to its meetings, following the military coup in February last year that ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar has been mired in political conflict since the military takeover, triggering massive demonstrations that have morphed into armed insurgency in various parts of the country, with Myanmar’s Institute for Strategy and Policy saying over 3,500 civilians were killed last year.

Nationwide, at least 320,000 people have been displaced and millions are at risk of poverty and hunger.

Mr Hun Sen and Dr Balakrishnan on Wednesday had a wide-ranging discussion on developments in the region.

“They hoped to see further progress on the negotiations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea.

“They also agreed it was important to foster more trade and investment in the Asia-Pacific region.

“Prime Minister Hun Sen looked forward to the early resumption of safe travel in the region and the Asean arrangements to support that,” the MFA statement said.

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