Myanmar's Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Kyaw Zwar Minn, outside the Myanmar Embassy in London on April 8, 2021. He has now complained to British police and fears for his safety. Photo: AFP / Ben Stansall

Only 10 days after American law enforcement agencies unearthed a plot to violently attack Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar’s permanent representative to the United Nations in New York, the Myanmar ambassador to London, Kyaw Zwar Minn, has formally complained to the police about security threats and intimidation against him. 

In London as well as New York, people close to the Myanmar junta are the main suspects and their motives are clear: Kyaw Moe Tun and Kyaw Zwar Minn have both refused to vacate their respective posts and declared they do not represent the generals who seized power in a coup on February 1.

Myanmar’s military authorities have denied any involvement in the New York plot and have yet to comment on the threats in London.

The would-be assassins in New York, Phyo Hein Htut and Ye Hein Zaw, were reputedly contracted by an arms dealer in Thailand, who is believed to be a Myanmar national with powerful local contacts. The Thai company mentioned in reports has denied any association with the plot.

In Britain, those threatening Kyaw Zwar Minn include London-based Myanmar diplomats who are loyal to the junta, according to Christopher Gunness of the Myanmar Accountability Project (MAP), a British human-rights NGO.

“Since the evening of August 14,” Gunness stated, the alleged diplomats have been “loitering repeatedly and menacingly outside the ambassadorial residence in north London.”

The ambassador lodged his complaint with the Metropolitan Police and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which has been asked to “investigate and put an end to this behavior which violates the diplomatic code of conduct.”

Myanmar’s new military government has appointed replacements to the two dissident diplomats, but those requests are yet to be approved by relevant authorities in New York and London.

Myanmar’s Tatmadaw flexes in an Armed Forces Day parade in Naypyitaw, March 27, 2021. Photo: Agencies

Military backgrounds

Aung Thurein, the junta’s designate for the post as permanent UN representative, served with the Myanmar military from the age of 18 until he was chosen for this post.

According to the official biography which was submitted by Myanmar’s military government to the UN on May 12, Aung Thurein has participated in a training session at an undisclosed place in China and been on three delegations to Beijing.

Htun Aung Kyaw, the man who the junta wants to send to London to replace Kyaw Zwar Minn, served as a fighter pilot during a 17-year career with the Myanmar Air Force. Htun Aung Kyaw is also a graduate of the Defense Services Academy in Pyin Oo Lwin and has been posted at Myanmar embassies in Egypt, Sri Lanka and the consulate in Kunming, China.

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation and New York police are now providing protection for Kyaw Moe Tun. But it is not yet clear what action UK authorities will take in response to Kyaw Zwar Minn’s complaint, but given what was brought to light in New York, it is likely it will be taken seriously and there will be a full investigation.

Myanmar scholars are aware of the country’s history of assassinations in which the military is believed to have been involved.

In 1993, Win Ko and Hla Pe, representatives of the then government in exile, the National Coalition Government of Burma, were killed in foreign countries.

Win Ko, an MP-elect in 1990 who had to flee when the military nullified that year’s election, was murdered while staying in a hotel in Kunming. Hla Pe, another MP-elect, was assassinated in Bangkok.

The Irrawaddy, an independent Myanmar news site, stated in an editorial on August 7 that “Colonel Thein Swe,” an air force officer and also an intelligence official who was posted in Bangkok as military attaché in the 1990s “was known to have worked with Thai networks and thugs to disturb exiled activists and opposition figures in Thailand.”

Myanmar’s then-intelligence chief Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt later promoted him to Brigadier General.

This photograph taken on November 10, 2013, shows Muslim lawyer Ko Ni. He was gunned down outside Yangon airport in what the then ruling party called a political assassination. Photo: AFP / Hong Sar

A history of assssinations

In 2008, Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan, a well-respected Karen leader who served as secretary-general of the Karen National Union, was shot and killed while visiting Mae Sot, a Thai town opposite Myawaddy in Myanmar.

Ko Ni, a top legal adviser to the National League for Democracy who was working on constitutional reform issues for the elected government, was gunned down in broad daylight at Yangon’s international airport on January 29, 2017.

It remains to be seen what impact the plots and threats in New York and London will have on the junta’s appointments of new diplomats there.

The UN post will be decided when the world body’s credentials committee meets at the General Assembly in September and it is likely to be a contest between Aung Thurein representing the military government in Naypyitaw and Kyaw Moe Tun for the National Unity Government, which consists of ministers, MPs and others who were ousted in the coup.

United Kingdom authorities have so far not commented officially on Htun Aung Kyaw’s appointment.