A prominent Muslim human rights lawyer and advisor to Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi was shot dead on Sunday at Yangon airport, prompting the country’s president to issue an appeal for calm in the Buddhist-majority country and a call to remain watchful against agitation leading to religious disturbances.
Ko Ni, a 63-year-old legal advisor to the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party that came into power last April, was shot at close range in the back of the head while he held his grandson outside the Yangon airport following a trip to Indonesia as part of a Myanmar government delegation to discuss interfaith tolerance and reconciliation.
Ko Ni was an outspoken critic of anti-Muslim attitudes held by Myanmar’s Buddhist nationalists and the country’s powerful military. He formally joined the NLD in October 2013, though he had previously supported Aung San Suu Kyi’s party process and provided legal advice.
The office of President Htin Kyaw issued a statement on Monday saying the killing was meant to disrupt peace and stability in the country and thanking citizens for helping arrest of the gunman. It also requested that people remain calm.
“The initial interrogation indicates the intention to destabilize the state,” said a translated copy of the statement. “Investigations are being carried out by the government to find out the truth. Security has been heightened in the aftermath of the assassination.”
“This being so, people are requested not to be stricken by panic and to stay quietly and peacefully, to be careful of religious and racial incitements and inform authorities concerned in case of finding evidence concerning this case of assassination and actions aimed at destabilizing the state.”
Ko Ni’s murder comes as the country grapples with a crisis in the northern part of its volatile Rakhine state where a crackdown by Myanmar security forces on Rohingya Muslims since October eft about 90 people dead and forced more than 65,000 of the villagers to flee to safety in neighboring Bangladesh.
The Rohingya have accused the military of indiscriminate killings, rape, torture and arson during the security operations, though both the Myanmar government and army have denied the allegations.
A taxi driver who tried to detain the killer was also shot dead, and the gunman was arrested at the scene. The motive of Ko Ni’s murder remains unknown.
“His daughter ran and grabbed the child and screamed out, ‘Father, Father’,” said Tin Hlaing, an ethnic Rakhine town elder from the Rakhine capital Sittwe who was on the Indonesia trip with Ko Ni.
“The gunman retreated 20 or 30 steps, yelled out not to come near him, and ran when the taxi driver gave chase,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
Tin Hlaing said that he, Ko Ni, and the other members of the government delegation were in Indonesia to learn about its policies and laws to forge peace between Muslims and Christian following clashes in the Maluku Islands in the late 1990s.
Full story: rfa.org
Reported by Kyaw Thu, Thiri Min Zin, Thiha Tun, Waiyan Moe Myint, Win Naung Toe, and Win Ko Ko Latt for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
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