02/17/2017, 15.59

A former officer behind Muslim lawyer’s murder but doubts about the official version remain

Francis Khoo Thwe

President’s Office reports that Ko Ni was killed by Aung Win Khaing, a former senior army officer, in order to destabilise the country at a time of strong ethnic and sectarian tensions. Many “people continue to wonder who the true instigator is, and what is behind the murder,” source tells AsiaNews.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – The latest developments in the murder of a prominent Muslim lawyer continue to “dominate the headlines”, but “uncertainty still prevails as who is really behind it and why”, this according to a local anonymous source that spoke to AsiaNews.

On Wednesday, the President’s Office reported that a former military officer, Aung Win Khaing, is suspected to have hired the killer of Ko Ni, a prominent lawyer advising Myanmar’s ruling party, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

This direct attack against the state comes at a time of growing religious and ethnic tensions, in a likely bid to destabilise the country.

"Although the President’s Office confirms the story that a top military is behind the murder, ordinary people continue to wonder who the true instigator is, and what is behind the murder," the source told AsiaNews.

In a context in which few believe the official version, other interesting details have emerged. "Some of the assassin’s colleagues are now in positions of great responsibility. One of them is the chief officer who was among the first to be on the scene of the crime."

The victim, Ko Ni, 63, was a Muslim lawyer known for his legal activism. One of his many battles, perhaps the most important and the one that probably cost him his life, was reforming the constitution imposed by the military in a phoney referendum in 2008.

Ni was shot to death at Yangon International Airport after he returned from an interfaith forum on tolerance and reconciliation in Indonesia.

Last year, in an interview centred on constitutional reform, he stressed that it was impossible to change the constitution given the "persistent" opposition of the military. For this reason, he proposed to write a new democratic charter for the country.

The President’s Office said that former Lieutenant Colonel Aung Win Khaing, who retired from the army in 2014, was suspected of paying his older brother, Aung Zaw Win, 100 million kyats (US$ 73,800) to murder Ko Ni. The latter instead hired Kyi Linn, 53, to carry out the assassination, which took place on 29 January.

During the attack, Lynn shot and killed taxi driver Ne Win, who had given chase after the attorney was gunned down. The gunman was eventually stopped by the taxi driver’s colleagues.

“Aung Win Khaing, who allegedly paid money for the crime and is still on the run, used to work in the military as a lieutenant colonel until 2014,” the statement by the President’s Office said. The 45-year-old man left the army for personal reasons.

At present, the military and the police have issued any comment regarding the statement of the President’s Office.

Closed-circuit television shows the former army officer at the airport’s arrivals hall, checking flight schedules minutes before Ko Ni was shot.

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