Burma’s Foreign Minister told the Cambodian Ambassador that Aung San Suu Kyi’s party would be allowed run in the 2010 election. Leaked US cables highlight divergences between Western and ASEAN views on Burma, with Hun Sen sounded-out as a possible interlocutor with the Burmese junta.
BANGKOK — In a meeting with Scott Marciel, the then-US ambassador for ASEAN Affairs and current ambassador to Indonesia, Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said “that the Burmese FM told the Cambodian ambassador recently that elections will be held in May 2010 and that 10 political parties, including Aung San Suu Kyi’s, would be allowed participate.”
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), the party that won Burma’s previous election in 1990, only for the military to ignore the result, boycotted the 2010 election, partly due to the ban imposed on Suu Kyi from participating.
In any case, according to Burma’s state-run media, the NLD was officially proscribed on Sept 14, 2010, almost 2 months before the Nov 7, 2010 vote, which produced a landslide win for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in an election widely dismissed as rigged.
The meeting, detailed in a US embassy cable dated Feb 12, 2010, added that “the Burmese government has requested that Asean send election observers.”
However, despite requests from Indonesia and others to send observers, the Burmese government refused to allow outside observation of the election, except for an election-day delegation of Naypyidaw-based diplomats led by the North Korean embassy.
Months before, on May 27-28, 2009, Cambodia played host to a testy meeting between foreign ministers from the European Union (EU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), in which “[Aung San Suu Kyi] and Burmese human rights violations monopolized news conferences, informal meetings, and even formal discussions during the two-day meeting,” despite a wide-ranging agenda, according to another US diplomatic cable from the country’s embassy in Phnom Penh.
The atmosphere at the meeting was described as tense, as it came shortly after Suu Kyi’s arrest for her alleged role in harboring a foreign guest at her Rangoon home, in violation of Burmese law and the terms of her house arrest. In a bizarre and as-yet-unexplained incident, on May 3, 2009, less than a month before Suu Kyi’s term of house arrest was due to expire, American John Yettaw swam across a Rangoon lake to Suu Kyi’s residence, but was arrested by Burmese police upon leaving the house two days later. Suu Kyi was eventually sentenced to an additional 18 months of house arrest in August 2009, before being released on Nov 13, 2011, a week after Burma’s parliamentary elections.
Yettaw’s release was secured by US Senator Jim Webb, who visited Burma in August 2009. Webb then proceeded to Vietnam and Cambodia, where he met with Prime Minister Hun Sen, who “praised” the former Virginia senator for his visit, and noted “that he (Hun Sen) had not been able to see both Than Shwe and Aung San Suu Kyi during his own previous visits,” according to another Phnom Penh embassy cable dated Aug 19, 2009.
Previously, according to the account of the May 2009 EU-ASEAN meeting given by an unnamed European diplomat to his/her American counterpart, discussions were “quite hard,” with Burma’s Deputy Foreign Minister Maung Myint repeatedly objecting to the UK and other EU ministers use of “Burma” rather than “Myanmar,” the official name for country conferred by the Burmese military rulers in 1989. Referring to Suu Kyi’s arrest, Maung Myint said that Burma “does not accept pressure and interference from abroad” and went on to accuse the junta’s critics of threatening “Myanmar’s sovereignty, stating that [Aung San Suu Kyi’s] trial is an internal legal issue, and it is not a human rights issue,” according to the account in the cable.
Suggesting differing views about Burma, as well as anger among Asean ministers that so much discussion time was spent on the country, Hor Namhong blamed the EU ministers for focusing on Burma, but added that he hoped that Burma “would move ahead in the democratization process.”
Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said that he “respected Burma’s insistence on non-interference, while Singapore’s Zainul Abidin Rasheed claimed that the “EU is a union of values but ASEAN is not.” He added “instead, diversity is, if not encouraged, at least agreed,” while re-stating Asean opposition to sanctions on Burma.
Nonetheless, “a strong and clear” joint EU-Asean declaration on Burma came out at the end of the meeting, with nine Asean ministers joining EU counterparts “to urge Burma to free all political prisoners including [Aung San Suu Kyi] at the end of the ministerial.” Burma’s delegation is said to have rejected portions of the statement and “adamantly refused any text related to the EU envoy [Piero] Fassino whatsoever.”
The US sought to engage Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Burma over a number of years, viewing the former Khmer Rouge man as a possible interlocutor with the Burmese junta. Hun Sen is regularly criticized for his alleged disregard for human rights in Cambodia. Noting this, he told unnamed diplomats, politicians and officials in Phnom Penh that “it made little sense for the international community to criticize Cambodia for its poor human rights record but then ask for Cambodia’s assistance in persuading Burma to respect the human rights of its people.”
In 2006, Cambodia established a legislative caucus on Burma, with Hun Sen allowing Burmese exiled dissidents and NLD members to attend the caucus’ opening in Phnom Penh, a move he felt would earn the wrath of the Burmese rulers.
According to a cable giving an account of the ceremony “the PM reportedly showed the delegation a letter from the SPDC [State Peace and Development Council, the name for the Burmese military junta] protesting the establishment of the Burma Caucus and the Cambodian government’s invitation to NLD MPs to join the launch. The letter allegedly referred to Burma’s democratic activists as ‘terrorists.’”Show