Retired Myanmar Army Officer Ordered Prominent Lawyer’s Murder, Government Says

A retired military officer allegedly masterminded the killing last month of a prominent Muslim rights attorney and ruling-party advisor in what the Myanmar government has called a politically motivated “terrorist act,” the President’s Office said Wednesday.

A statement issued by the office of President Htin Kyaw said Aung Win Khaing, a former army lieutenant colonel who retired voluntarily from the military in 2014, orchestrated the assassination of Ko Ni on Jan. 29.

Police and the military are on the lookout for Aung Win Khaing, who is on the run, and other possible conspirators, the statement said.

Aung Win Khaing is the brother of Aung Win Zaw, who was arrested on Jan. 30 in Kayin state in connection with the murder.

Aung Win Zaw told police that Aung Win Khaing promised to pay him 100 million kyats (about U.S. $73,000) to have Ko Ni assassinated and gave him 10 million kyats (U.S. $7,400) upfront.

Aung Win Zaw allegedly hired a third man named Kyi Lin to assassinate Ko Ni in exchange for a car.

Kyi Lin shot 63-year-old Ko Ni at close range in the back of the head outside Yangon’s international airport after the attorney had returned with a delegation of government and civic leaders from a trip to Indonesia where they participated in a workshop on interfaith tolerance and reconciliation.

He also shot and killed taxi driver Ne Win, who had given chase after the attorney was gunned down.

On the day of the murder, Aung Win Khaing called his brother twice and told him to have Ko Ni killed, the government’s statement said.

The gun used by Kyi Lin to shoot Ko Ni was purchased in October 2016 from a man named Myint Swe in the Umpiem Mai refugee camp in Thailand, about 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from the Myanmar border, according to what Aung Win Zaw told police.

The government previously said that the assassination was a politically motivated act meant to “destabilize the state.”

The murder occurred at a time when religious tension between Myanmar’s Buddhist majority and Muslim minority is running high.

A crackdown in Rakhine state by Myanmar security forces on Rohingya Muslims since October has left more than 1,000 dead and forced about 69,000 villagers to flee to safety in neighboring Bangladesh, according to United Nations estimates.

Some of the Rohingya who fled have accused Myanmar security forces of extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and arson during the lockdown.

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