Yangon—Cambodia’s strongman ruler Hun Sen arrived in Myanmar Friday for talks with the junta—the first foreign leader to visit since the generals seized power almost a year ago.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the February 1 coup which ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government and ended the country’s decade-long dalliance with democracy.
More than 1,400 civilians have been killed as the military cracks down on dissent, according to a local monitoring group, and numerous anti-junta militias have sprung up around the country.
Hun Sen, whose country currently holds the rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), landed in the capital Naypyidaw with three million facemasks and other medical equipment as a gift for the junta.
He has said he will use his meeting with military leader Min Aung Hlaing to press the “five point consensus” that ASEAN leaders agreed to last year as a means of defusing the Myanmar crisis.
Ahead of his trip, he called for a ceasefire, urging “all relevant parties” to stop the violence that has wracked the country for almost a year.
Rights groups and local anti-junta activists had urged Hun Sen to cancel the two-day trip, saying it legitimised the military regime.
But he called for patience, insisting the visit could have a positive impact.
International powers have piled diplomatic pressure on Myanmar’s military administration—officially called the State Administration Council —with even traditional allies such as China lukewarm in their support.
But repeated condemnations and even new rounds of sanctions have shown little sign of blowing the generals off their chosen course.
In the latest atrocity, more than 30 people were killed on Christmas Eve in a massacre blamed on the military.
The visit by Hun Sen—a former Khmer Rouge cadre who has steered Cambodia from the ruins of civil war over three decades of hardline rule—comes as ASEAN seeks to help Myanmar out of the crisis.
The regional bloc has sought to shed its reputation as a toothless talking shop and take action on Myanmar, with leaders agreeing to a “five-point consensus” last year.
In October, the bloc took the highly unusual step of excluding Min Aung Hlaing from a summit in response to an ASEAN envoy being denied a meeting with Suu Kyi.
Cambodia has said it wants to bring Myanmar back into the fold, and earlier this week foreign minister Prak Sokhonn said the visit aimed to create space for “inclusive dialogue and political trust among all parties”.
The visit has met with criticism from rights groups and a group of ousted lawmakers known as the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH).
The CRPH issued a statement saying the trip would bring “no benefits” and the people of Myanmar would be “outraged” at the gesture towards the military.
Amnesty International has also condemned the trip, saying it may do more harm than good.
“If Hun Sen truly wants to help, he should cancel this trip and lead ASEAN to strong action to address the country’s dire human rights situation rather than indulge in empty gestures,” Amnesty’s Emerlynne Gil said in a statement.
The junta has justified the coup by alleging electoral fraud in 2020 elections, and Suu Kyi is facing a raft of charges that could see her jailed for decades.