Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Muslim Leader Hated By Burmese Buddhists Murdered

Burmese Buddhists bitterly hated Muslim Ko Ni for his
relentless demands to change the Constitution.
One of Burma’s most prominent lawyers and Muslim leaders hated by Buddhist Burmese was gunned down at Yangon International Airport on Sunday (January 29) as he returned from an overseas trip.

The assassin knew that U Ko Ni was returning from an official visit to Indonesia where he had held meetings with Buddhist and Muslim religious figures who were involved in addressing tensions in Arakan State. The group aimed to draw on lessons from Indonesia’s past that could be applied to the current ethnic and religious tension in Burma.

As U Ko Ni waited on the sidewalk for a car to pick him up, the assassin approached from behind and shot him at point blank into back of his head. The assassin tried to run away but was subsequently caught by a group of brave taxi drivers and security police at Yangon International Airport.

Police have named the suspect as Kyi Lin and said that he is from Kyaukme in Shan State and previously served seven years in prison. He is now in police custody. The assassin’s precise motives remain unknown, and it is unclear if the gunman had any external support, or whether he simply worked alone.

But it is clear that this assassination of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s legal advisor was deliberate and politically motivated. Now the country will require a transparent and credible investigation.

Gunman stood directly behind Ko Ni and shot.
U Ko Ni was a prominent Muslim lawyer and close to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Moreover, he was a constitutional expert and strong advocate to amend or replace the 2008 Constitution. That document, which was drafted under the former military government of Burma, grants the army at least 25 percent of all seats in Parliament and control over key ministries.

U Ko Ni consistently spoke out to change the Constitution (and most Buddhist Burmese bitterly hated him for that). He is also believed to have played a key role in advising the NLD party to create the position of State Counselor for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi after the NLD’s landslide victory in the 2015 election.

He was regarded as a rational voice on many sensitive issues including the turmoil in northern Arakan State. He was also behind a push to amend the Race and Religion Protection laws, and it is believed that he received death threats.

(Blogger's notes: U Ko Ni’s secret visit to Indonesia - believed to have been a successful one - was considered by the Buddhists as an effort to encourage Indonesian Muslims to put relentless religious and political pressure on Burma a predominantly Buddhist nation.)

The trip was aimed at sharing the experiences of overcoming inter-religious tensions. In fact, since the NLD came into power in 2016, U Ko Ni played a key role in addressing the growing issue of hate speech and religious discrimination. He recently described the possibility that there could be a new law introduced to curtail hate speech.

U Soe Myint, the chairman of Shwe Lun Pyan taxi drivers’ association, was at Yangon International Airport when National League for Democracy lawyer U Ko Ni was shot. He witnessed the assassin fleeing the scene and fatally shooting a taxi driver before being arrested at gunpoint. U Soe Myint told The Irrawaddy’s reporter Tun Tun what he saw:

“We taxi drivers saw it as soon as [the shooting] happened, and chased [the gunman]. At that time, he was holding a gun, and we chased him behind and from his left and right-hand sides, shouting ‘He has a gun! He has a gun!’

There are four taxi drivers’ associations at the airport, and all of the drivers came out and chased him, so there were about 100 people. The man with the gun was running about 20 feet ahead of us. U Nay Win threw a brick at the gunman while running after him. The man turned and fired at him, and he was shot dead.

We thought he was hit in the haunches, but later we learned that he had an exit wound near his bladder. The man with the gun fired two or three shots from both his right and left side [into the chasing crowd] while running.

By then, police at the airport had also joined the crowd to chase him. The man with the gun kept on running. He saw a taxi in front of a restaurant called ‘Amazing’ and stopped it at gunpoint.

He got in it and asked the taxi driver to drive. He was a little bit far from me but as he got in the taxi, the chasing taxi drivers surrounded the taxi and blocked it from moving. Then, police arrived and aimed their guns [at the suspect] and arrested him.

U Nay Win was rushed to hospital. We heard after a while that he was dead. We went to North Okkalapa Hospital and found the body of U Nay Win was being kept at the mortuary there.”

U Nay Win, 48, is survived by a wife and three children aged 7 years, 4 years, and 45 days. The Rangoon Divisional Government will pay for his funeral scheduled to be held on Tuesday.

Grieving wife and baby child of the slain taxi driver Ne Win.
NLD to Tighten Security Following Lawyer’s Assassination

NAYPYIDAW—A leading member of Burma’s ruling party the National League for Democracy (NLD) said security measures—including for the party’s leadership—would be beefed up and described the assassination of the party’s legal advisor on Sunday as a “threat.”

Legal advisor for the NLD U Ko Ni was killed at Yangon International Airport by a lone gunman at close range on Sunday afternoon. Although assassinations are rare in Burma, the event has prompted security concerns for the country’s State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

NLD spokesperson and the person responsible for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s security U Win Htein told The Irrawaddy on Sunday that the current security measures for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi were good. “But [given to U Ko Ni’s assassination] I will have to make them stricter,” he said.

“The assassination is a security threat. I will advise to tighten the security for the current leadership,” he added. “We will take this matter seriously and will increase security during [Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s] local and international tours,” he said.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s name was found on an ISIS target list  sent to Malaysia’s Negri Sembilan police station in August last year, along with the Malaysian prime minister, his deputy, as well as the attorney-general, the inspector-general of police, and three ministers of Malaysia.

In response to the ISIS threats, President Office’s Spokesperson U Zaw Htay told The Irrawaddy last year that they didn’t need to worry too much but they also can’t underestimate it. On Sunday, the NLD released a statement condemning the killing as an act of “terrorism” and urging members not to react strongly to the assassination.

RANGOON — Thousands came to the Rangoon funeral of U Ko Ni, a legal advisor to the National League for Democracy (NLD), who was shot yesterday outside the commercial capital’s international airport.

The traditional Muslim ceremony at Yayway Cemetery in North Okkalapa Township was attended by U Ko Ni’s friends and supporters of many faiths. Mourners included NLD leaders U Tin Oo, U Nyan Win, 88 Generation leaders Min Ko Naing and Ko Ko Gyi, as well as other authorities, including staff members from foreign embassies.

U Ko Ni was killed by a lone gunman at close range at Yangon International Airport after returning from a trip to Indonesia. The suspect in the murder has been identified as U Kyi Lin, a resident of Mandalay who police say hails from northern Shan State. Also killed in the incident was taxi driver U Nay Win, 48, who attempted to apprehend the shooter and was also shot. U Kyi Lin is in police custody.

“This was a political assassination. How could they do something like this?” alleged one woman, a relative of U Ko Ni, who was present at the funeral. Local Muslims said that U Ko Ni’s absence would be felt not only by their own religious community, but by Burma as a whole.

“He was an educated person. It is a loss for the country, not only for Muslims,” said Aung Kyi, a Muslim leader from Pabedan Township who attended the funeral.

One paper sign at the funeral read that the bullet that killed U Ko Ni “hit the Constitution,” but not him, a reference to the late lawyer’s commitment to amending Burma’s controversial, military-drafted 2008 charter.

U Ne Latt, also a lawyer, commended U Ko Ni’s work toward constitutional reform. He added that while lawyers would continue in his footsteps, he did not think anyone could match the contributions U Ko Ni had made in his lifetime.

RANGOON— Burma’s government said it is investigating the assassination of prominent Muslim lawyer and NLD legal advisor U Ko Ni. “According to the initial findings, the assassination is likely to destabilize the country. The government is carrying out the investigation to find the truth and necessary security measures are also tightening,” a statement from the President’s Office released on Monday read.

U Ko Ni was shot dead in the head at close range outside Yangon International Airport on Sunday afternoon by a gunman, identified as 53-year-old Kyi Lin, according to a police report. The assailant also shot a taxi driver with his 9mm pistol, who was among those attempting to catch him.

It was reported that the detained gunman Kyi Lin was in prison in the 2000s for smuggling ancient Buddha stupas and released in a presidential amnesty in 2014.

“We feel deeply sorry for the assassinated U Ko Ni and also U Nay Win who was killed while attempting to catch the shooter. And also we are thankful to all dutiful citizens who helped to arrest the assailant,” the statement read.

It urged the public not to be frightened because of the incident and also to be aware of racial and religious instigations. It also asked the public to inform the authorities of any suspicious activities.

The Burma Army’s information team also released a statement that said the army would cooperate with security forces to hold the perpetrator accountable for the crime, as the incident challenged existing safety measures. The motive remains unknown and The Irrawaddy could not get a comment from the police at the time of publication.

Police believe the man who murdered prominent lawyer U Ko Ni was not working alone.

The suspect, a 53-year-old going by the name U Kyi Lin, shot the National League for Democracy adviser in the back of the head from close range in a broad daylight attack outside the Yangon International Airport on January 29.

The suspect attempted to flee the scene, but a taxi driver and fellow NLD member, U Nay Win, pursued the lone shooter, and was critically wounded in the process, later succumbing to his injuries.

Police arrested the suspect, but more than 30 hours after the two NLD members were slain, no motive for the attack has been publicly released. After interrogating the suspect, Yangon police believe more people to be responsible for the shooting, which the NLD yesterday termed a “terrorist act”.

“Currently, the suspect is not answering our questions correctly … the other suspects will be revealed when this suspect tells the truth. The timeline for the case depends on him. If he answers the truth today, the case can be revealed,” said Police Colonel Myo Thu Soe. He declined to comment on why he believes the suspect was lying.

According to Pol Col Myo Thu Soe, the suspect is from the Yinmabin township, Sagaing Region. However, police investigating the attack chased an initial red herring when they attempted to search what they believed at the time was the suspect’s neighbourhood.

The shooter had on his possession a National Registration Card pinning his address to Mandalay’s Maha Aung Myay township on 34th street between 73rd and 74th streets. At a press conference yesterday, Mandalay Region Police Colonel Han Tun said officers searched the block but could not find the home of the alleged perpetrator.

“When we asked the head of block whether this man stayed here or not, they said they didn’t know either. They told us the matter was still being investigated,” said Pol Col Han Tun. “Although the gunman’s NRC was issued around 1999 or 2000, he did not actually live [at the address on the card] at least since the date of issue,” he added.

Yesterday morning, the homeowners at the suspected address of the gunmen were asked to come to the Township Administrative Office. “But it was found that he [U Kyi Lin] didn’t actually live there … according to the local residents, he hasn’t lived on this block. Therefore, his family, any children, or anyone related to him couldn’t be investigated [when the police searched the neighbourhood],” said Pol Col Han Tun.

Police determined that the suspected shooter is neither a resident, nor a native of Mandalay Region. Reports circulating yesterday suggested the suspect is a former lawyer, and was previously imprisoned for stealing property from a pagoda. The police colonel could not confirm the details however, of the suggestion that U Kyi Lin was pardoned in a 2014 presidential amnesty.

International rights groups, lawyers and rights experts have called on the government to swiftly enact justice and bring the perpetrator(s) to account. In a statement released last night, the Tatmadaw’s True News and Information Team pledged to cooperate with security officers in order to quickly “arrest the defendants who are involved in the assassination”.

Following the shooting attack, the Air Force Police have taken over security at the airport. U Aung Thi Ha, an immigration officer at the Yangon airport, said that the flight schedule has continued as normal, as have taxi stands and drop off locations, the only change is that the number of security forces deployed has increased and they are being led by the Air Force.

(Blogger's notes: Air Force's Intelligence Division, till just few years ago,  was the ultimate controller and security provider of Rangoon International Airport. But Burma Police had taken over the Airport security and control after recent political reforms and the partial withdrawal of Burma Armed Forces from politics. Now the dreaded Air Force men have returned to the Rangoon Airport by taking advantage of Ko Ni's daytime assassination.)

Ko Ni at one of NLD's public gatherings for the amendment of Burma 2008 Constitution.

Related posts at following links:
Buddhist Monks Are Bitterly Against Amending Burma Constitution
Nationalists Fought Muslims Ko Ni and Mya Aye On Union Day