Cambodia PM chides 'arrogant' Malaysia minister for questioning junta visit

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Friday took aim at the foreign minister of Malaysia for being “arrogant” and impolite, after its top diplomat voiced concern about the premier’s controversial meeting with Myanmar’s junta.

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Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah last week said some Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members had reservations about Hun Sen’s Jan. 7 visit to Myanmar while chair of the bloc, which risked being interpreted as ASEAN recognition of the generals.

Saifuddin suggested Hun Sen should have sought input from ASEAN counterparts beforehand.

Hun Sen in a phone call on Friday with Indonesian President Joko Widodo defended his Myanmar trip and rebuked Saifuddin, according to a readout of the conversation provided to media by state broadcaster TVK.

“Samdech (Hun Sen) said that the foreign minister should not be too arrogant with inappropriate remarks to ASEAN leaders, especially the chair,” it said.

“And he lacks politeness,” it quoted Hun Sen saying.

Malaysia’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Hun Sen’s remarks.

The military’s overthrow of an elected government in Myanmar last year has been a major setback for ASEAN as it seeks to boost its international profile as a diverse, integrated and effective economic and political bloc.

But fissures have emerged within ASEAN over how best to deal with Myanmar.

Under the chairmanship of Brunei, ASEAN made a surprise move late last year in barring the junta from joining important meetings, over its failure to implement an agreed five-point ASEAN “consensus” on ending the post-coup conflict in Myanmar.

New chair Cambodia, however, has indicated it wants to engage not isolate the generals.

During the call, Jokowi, as Indonesia’s president is known, urged Hun Sen to stick to the ASEAN consensus, a call to which he agreed, according to the readout.

It said Hun Sen emphasised that he went to Myanmar “to plant trees, not to cut down trees” and Saifuddin’s remarks were “not right within the ASEAN framework”.

Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Martin Petty