Two Myanmar citizens have been arrested in New York about a plot to assassinate Myanmar’s Permanent Representative to the U.N. The two suspects in question, Phyo Hein Htut, and Ye Hein Zaw had allegedly been conspiring to tamper with Envoy Kyaw Moe Tun’s car to force a deadly malfunction. Both have now been charged with plotting an attempt to kill a diplomat on American soil. According to an FBI investigation, Ye Hein Zaw was acting as an intermediary for a Thai arms company Chaiseri Metal and Rubber Co. Ltd. He contacted Phyo Hein Htut online, offering him $4,000 to attack the outspoken critic of Myanmar’s military junta. Phyo Hein Htut then requested an additional payment in exchange for hiring attackers to murder Kyaw Moe Tun.
“Phyo Hein Htut and Ye Hein Zaw plotted to seriously injure or kill Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations in a planned attack on a foreign official that was to take place on American soil,” said U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss. Additionally, a volunteer security guard at Myanmar’s UN headquarters reportedly informed the FBI that Phyo Hein Htut had told him about his plan “to hire a hitman to kill or injure the ambassador.”
The trans-Pacific conspiracy to murder a diplomat has definitely produced widespread international condemnation. Yet the military government in Myanmar and the Thai arms dealer have both deflected accusations of engineering the plot. Ambassador Tun has been unapologetic in his opposition to Myanmar’s new totalitarian regime. Back in February, he called upon the U.N. to use “any means necessary” to stop the coup after protestors were met with rubber bullets and stun grenades. Since the takeover, the military has killed over 900 people as it asserts its dominance over a nation that, after 60 years of military rule, is yearning for social progress, institutional reforms, and individual rights.
Kyaw Moe Tun was fired by the nation’s newly installed military government but refused to step down and has been given U.N. support. Since then, he has become somewhat of an international figurehead for the pro-democracy, underground National Unity Government (NUG) “who claim to be the legitimate representatives of the Burmese people.”
This clandestine civilian authority has intersecting intentions and overlapping members with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), who won the November 2020 election with more than 80% of the vote. Such an overwhelming leap in the direction of the dismantlement of the military state prompted military leaders to contest the results and level claims of extensive fraud. Then, in February, they declared a one-year state of emergency, arrested civilian political leaders, and shut down access to social media sites.
The path forward is labyrinthine. Short of an interventionist overthrow of the regime, it seems likely that it will continue to rule into the foreseeable future. That being said, a protest movement has galvanized amidst the flames of harsh repression and the nation has seen demonstrations in the hundreds of thousands. Increasing aid to the nation would likely result in military interception and utilization for nefarious means. Sanctions, as seen in Iran and Cuba, stimy the growth of the economy and hurt working people.
Thus, it is my view that the international community has to pledge support and organize a coalescent funding initiative around the National Unity Government. This rhetorical and financial aid can be funneled through Kyaw Moe Tun to the surviving non-arrested leaders of Myanmar’s underground faction. With funding behind them and the international community galvanized around their cause (refusing to recognize the junta as legitimate and persuading China to curb its implicit endorsement of the regime) the domestic movement can gain traction and validation.
Overall, the military has an innate position in government given its rewriting of the constitution in 2008, which entitles them to 25% of parliamentary seats regardless of vote share. Thus, the constitution ought to be rewritten as even when Aung San Suu Kyi became the nation’s leader, her political goals were obfuscated by belligerent military-business interests. According to Justine Chambers, Associate Director of the Myanmar Research Center, the military still has built-in control over “defense, immigration, and also the judiciary” despite the guise of democracy.
In summation, the establishment of surreptitious funding lines between the U.N. and NUG, along with vocal and consistent rhetorical support from the U.N. Assembly for the mass protest movements should be the next move from the international community. This should be followed by collectively calling out China on the global stage for welcoming the military junta and offering socio-political assistance (operatives, advisors, literature) to Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD to devise a strategy to implement democratic institutional and constitutional reforms. Maybe then, the people of Myanmar will no longer have to deal with a takeover by insecure authoritarians.