Dateline Irrawaddy: ‘U Ko Ni’s Assassination Has Become a Hindrance to National Reconciliation’

By The Irrawaddy 4 March 2017

Kyaw Zwa Moe: Welcome to Dateline Irrawaddy. This week, regarding U Ko Ni’s assassination, we’ll discuss what the disagreements are between the National League for Democracy (NLD) government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and the Home Affairs Ministry, which has been investigating U Ko Ni’s case. Ko Aung Moe Zaw, chairman of the Democratic Party for a New Society, and The Irrawaddy’s Burmese editor, Ko Ye Ni, will join me for the discussion. I’m The Irrawaddy’s English editor.

One month after U Ko Ni’s assassination, Home Affairs Minister Lt-Gen Kyaw Swe—along with police chiefs—held a press conference. The next day, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and senior leaders of her party—such as U Tin Oo, U Win Htein, the Rangoon divisional chief minister, and other ministers—attended the memorial service to mark the one-month anniversary of the death of U Ko Ni. On that day, U Win Htein said that the press conference held by the Home Affairs Ministry was similar to those held in the time of the former military intelligence chief and former general U Khin Nyunt; it was like fanning the flames. So, this highlights the disagreements between the government—or Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, or her party—and the Home Affairs Ministry. Ko Aung Moe Zaw, what is your assessment of it?

Aung Moe Zaw: I’d like to point out two or three things. At the press conference, the [Home Affairs] minister clearly stated that his ministry is the part of the government. Despite this, the public perception is that the elected government and the Home Affairs Ministry are two different entities. Secondly, the minister at the press conference tried to convince [those in attendance] that his ministry had done a thorough job. But, as to the minister’s conclusion [about the case] the response of the people has been—as you may see and hear on social media or in residential wards or at teashops—that most people don’t like his conclusion. They thought the minister was playing down the motives of the criminals. He described the assassins and conspirators as young men with “extreme nationalism.” This has become the funny talk of the town; you can see and hear people joking about it at teashops, on social media, and in markets. But I don’t think Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the President and the government share the same view as the minister. She attended the memorial service to mark the one-month anniversary of U Ko Ni[’s death]. So, we can draw the conclusion that the two sides have different views.

KZM: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has described [U Ko Ni and taxi driver U Nay Win] as martyrs. Under the 2008 Constitution, the Burma Amy still holds three ministries—the Home Ministry, the Border Affairs Ministry and the Defense Ministry—despite the fact that the NLD won the election and came to power. So, I view those disagreements as potentially negative for our country’s politics. Ko Ye Ni, as you have continuously done interviews on this, how high do you think this potential for negativity is?

Ye Ni: My view is that once she said that she would attend the memorial service for U Ko Ni and U Nay Win on Sunday, the Home Affairs Ministry, which is investigating the case, was put under great political pressure. Since the police failed to properly inform the public about the investigation into the case one month after the assassination, the public and the media have questioned if police were working on it, and there were resulting pressures on Ministry of Home Affairs. So, the Home Affairs Minister Lt-Gen Kyaw Swe had to hold a press conference on Saturday to alleviate those pressures. But the political standpoints of the Burma Army and of Daw Aung San Suu Ki’s government are quite different. As Ko Aung Moe Zaw has said, the assassin and conspirators were described as young men with “extreme nationalism,” who committed the crime out of passion. So, U Win Htein has strongly criticized the press conference as fanning the flames.

KZM: Here, I found that the people, the NLD and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government want justice. Of course, the families of U Ko Ni and U Nay Win also want justice. People want the truth to be found out. The Burma Army has had its reputation damaged through this assassination case, as the major [alleged] conspirators are ex-military officers. Aung Win Khaing is a lieutenant colonel. His brother Aung Win Zaw is also an ex-military officer. Zeya Phyo is an ex-military intelligence captain. This will create negative image of the army in the public’s view. In our country, we have witnessed previous cases of troubles caused by ex-officers. Ko Aung Moe Zaw, how large does this legacy loom today?

AMZ: Our country has just opened up after the repressive military dictatorship of the past 20 to 30 years. I would say that quite sad things happened during that period in the country. It gave birth to very wealthy persons who got rich because of their ties with armed groups, as well as chauvinists, and it created an oligarchy. I even suspect that this oligarchy has gained root, so the governments that have come to power cannot oppose those oligarchs. I assume that many mafia-like gangs have gained ground. I assume that the assassination of U Ko Ni was intended as the first warning to democracy activists and those demanding justice. Similar things can happen again. If we can’t change this trend in our country, such things are not positive signs for the politics of our country. Our country has witnessed such things as a legacy of oligarchy.

KZM: As we have witnessed, there were many such problems after the army staged a coup in 1988. A group of people attempted to attack Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in front of her residence on University Avenue Road in probably 1996, and in the Depayin Massacre of 2003, her motorcade came under mob attack, and [NLD patron] U Tin Oo was seriously injured and jailed. There were reports that the attacks were committed by Swan Arshin [a civilian militia group formed with thugs by the military regime] under the instruction of former military leaders including [former prime minister] General Soe Win. This is the kind of group Ko Aung Moe Zaw has mentioned. But, Ko Ye Ni, even if such gangs of thugs still exist, I don’t think they can go too far.

YN: I found an interesting point. At the press conference on Saturday, Home Affairs’ Lt-Gen Kyaw Swe said that he was ashamed of ex-military officers’ involvement in the assassination. This is the first time an incumbent general has spoken of shame. And if [the army] is willing to learn a lesson, starting from this case, I think people will hope that U Ko Ni’s case will be the turning point for [the army leadership] to compensate for the sins [they and their predecessors] have committed over the past 50 years by taking advantage of the army.

KZM: Let’s go back to the case. To make a long story short, the main suspect is former lieutenant colonel Aung Win Khaing, as he [is said to have] paid 100 million kyats to kill U Ko Ni. But he is still at large, and it seems that the case has to be closed if he is not arrested. So the Home Affairs Ministry has to carry out a thorough investigation in order to dispel public doubts. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, with her eye on national reconciliation, and has included former members of Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) in her cabinet and the military also holds three ministries according to the Constitution. Ko Aung Moe Zaw, don’t you think some truths were concealed because of her focus on national reconciliation?

AMZ: I have a slightly different view. As far as I understand, fundamental principles should not be sacrificed in working for national reconciliation. But under the current circumstances, the Constitution does not allow for retroactive punishment. So, it seems that we have to skip some truths.

KZM: They are not covered up. They have to turn a blind eye.

AMZ: Yes, we have to turn a blind eye, and this is the reality. Our government, our leader has to go through that although they know that truths were sacrificed, I think.

KZM: Now the NLD government has been in office for more than one year, and has been working for national reconciliation. But frankly speaking, how good is the progress in engagement and cooperation between military leaders and the civilian government of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi?

AMZ: I would like to make an important point here. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD government have been working to reconcile with the military, and U Ko Ni’s case has become a big hindrance to it. I don’t mean the military is involved, but the assassination has raised doubts among public. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s government was elected by the people: they have to listen to their voices. But, speaking of national reconciliation, it is connected to democratic forces, particularly ethnic forces. Ethnic forces think that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is only working with the army, and not with them. So, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is in a real tight corner. It is difficult to say that she gets along with the military. On the other hand, the ethnicities dare not completely trust her. This is the reality.

YN: I agree with you, Ko Aung Moe Zaw. Considering U Ko Ni’s case alone, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi seems to be in a tight corner. But as far as I understand, she is taking subtle steps. That’s why she attended the memorial service for U Ko Ni and U Nay Win and praised them in order to show that she also pays heed to the rule of law.

KZM: Ko Aung Moe Zaw, Ko Ye Ni, thank you for your contributions!