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Myanmar's democratic transition

Myanmar ruling party says Muslim lawyer’s killing ‘political’

Human rights group Amnesty International and a thinktank have urged Myanmar to investigate the assassination of prominent lawyer Ko Ni

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 January, 2017, 5:24pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 January, 2017, 10:24pm

The killing of a top Muslim lawyer and adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi who was gunned down outside Yangon airport was a political assassination and a “terrorist act”, Myanmar’s ruling party said Monday.

Ko Ni, a prominent member of Myanmar’s Muslim minority, was shot in the head at close range as he

he waited outside the airport while holding his grandson.

A dramatic photo circulating on social media showed the moment the gunman, standing behind him, took aim.

The killing shocked many in Yangon because attacks on prominent people are rare, although security forces are notorious for brutal behaviour in remote rural areas, especially when dealing with ethnic minorities.

Ko Ni “is irreplaceable for both Aung San Suu Kyi and the party,” Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy party said in a statement. He was especially valued as an expert in constitutional law, looking for ways to sidestep provisions placed in the charter by an earlier military junta to retain power at the expense of elected governments.

Journalists and human rights workers who have found Suu Kyi’s government almost as difficult to deal with as the military-backed regime it replaced found him a familiar and helpful figure.

At the same time, he was active in defending the rights of Muslims, who often face discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Last year, he helped found the Myanmar Muslim Lawyers Association, which was criticised by ultra-nationalist Buddhists monks as well as by some of his political allies, who feared it encouraged sectarianism.

The alleged gunman, identified by police as Kyi Linn, was arrested Sunday after he shot a taxi driver who tried to stop him from fleeing the airport, the Information Ministry said in a video posted on state-run MRTV. The driver died on the way to a hospital.

Police seized two guns from the suspect. Authorities were searching for any possible accomplices. Speculation about the motive for the killing included political intimidation, anti-Muslim prejudice and a possible business dispute involving the victim’s private law practice.

The killing had “all the hallmarks of an assassination”, human rights group Amnesty International said in a statement on Sunday, calling for a “thorough, independent and impartial investigation”.

Family members and friends told Reuters Ko Ni had received threats to his life connected to his political work.

The timing of the killing was a matter of particular concern, said the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank, since it comes just months after attacks on border police blamed on insurgents from the Rohingya minority.

It was essential “that no stone is left unturned in finding the truth about this incident and who may have been behind it,” the Brussels-based think tank said in a statement.

Residents, refugees and monitors accuse soldiers of extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests, rape and arson in response to the border attacks on October 9.

The government strongly denies most allegations, but 66,000 people have fled to Bangladesh and at least 21,000 have been internally displaced, the United Nations says.

Ko Ni was returning from Indonesia, where Myanmar government officials and Muslim leaders, including the mostly stateless Rohingya, were discussing issues of reconciliation with Indonesian counterparts.

“In a context of strong anti-Muslim sentiment, rampant hate speech on social media, and virulent Buddhist nationalism propounded by some senior monks, this crime could embolden others and unleash further violence,” the ICG added.

Associated Press, Reuters, Agence France-Presse