The Irrawaddy

Almost a Year After NLD Adviser’s Murder, Key Suspect Still at Large

U Ko Ni, left, with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and his wife in an undated photo taken at the lawyer’s office in Yangon.

YANGON — As a human rights and constitutional lawyer, U Ko Ni helped others find justice. But for U Ko Ni himself, justice remains elusive.

This coming January will mark the one-year anniversary of his tragic death at Yangon International Airport, where he was shot at close range in broad daylight. But 11 months after his death, Aung Win Khaing, the suspected mastermind of the assassination, is still at large. A statement issued by the President’s Office said the former lieutenant colonel is believed to have hired gunman Kyi Lin to shoot U Ko Ni.

The ex-army officer vanished into thin air after the killing. Four other suspects have been on trial for several months, and as of last week 65 of 80 witnesses have testified. The motive for the murder, according to the national police chief, was a “personal grudge;” he said the alleged conspirators were “resentful” of U Ko Ni’s political activities.

With the murder trial having dragged on now for nearly a year without the main suspect, longtime friends and colleagues of U Ko Ni expressed their disappointment with the Home Affairs Ministry — which controls the country’s police force — for its failure to arrest Aung Win Khaing.

“They are not doing their job properly. It disappoints me to see the main suspect is still at large,” said U Kyee Myint, a lawyer who cofounded the Myanmar Lawyers Network five years ago with U Ko Ni.

The police announced in June that they had no new information about Aung Win Khaing and would not be able to arrest him soon despite the fact that he was last seen in Naypyitaw a few days after the killing.

“Why is the Home Affairs Ministry so ineffective?” U Kyee Myint said.

According to Myanmar’s controversial 2008 Constitution, the ministry that controls the country’s police force is to be run by the military.

U Ko Ni was the legal adviser for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party. The 65-year-old lawyer was believed to have conceived of her current position — state counselor — so that she could serve as the country’s de facto leader despite being constitutionally barred from the presidency.

The Muslim lawyer was critical of the military-drafted Constitution, which guarantees the military 25 percent of the seats in Parliament and control of the government’s three most powerful ministries: defense, border affairs and home affairs. He actively lobbied for the amendment of the charter, one of the NLD’s main goals and yet to be realized.

U Ko Ni is believed to have been drafting a new charter at the time of his murder, having decided there was no point trying to amend the 2008 Constitution since any changes to it require more than 75 percent of the votes in Parliament. Many people believe the NLD adviser paid the price for his plans. If true, the Constitution he sought to replace is casting a shadow over his own case.

Robert San Aung, a human rights lawyer and longtime friend of U Ko Ni, said the case was unusual because most of the suspects are former military men. He said that might make the police reluctant to arrest Aung Win Khaing, given that the military runs the Ministry of Home Affairs, which controls the police. (Of the five murder suspects, three are ex-army officers; Aung Win Khaing held the highest rank among them.)

“The police chief doesn’t seem to use his full authority,” said Robert San Aung, who is representing a taxi driver who was killed during his pursuit for the gunman who shot U Ko Ni.

“It would be easier to bring him [Aung Win Khaing] to court if the police force were not under the ministry,” he said. “To make it happen, the only way is to amend the Constitution.”

Police Colonel Shwe Thaung, who heads the national police force’s Criminal Investigation Department, was not available for comments on Tuesday.

U Nay La, the lawyer representing U Ko Ni’s family in the case, told The Irrawaddy that the motive for the assassination could be made clear if Aung Win Khaing were in court.

“We would learn more about who is behind the case,” he said.

U Nay La said police were doing a poor job of investigating the murder but declined to elaborate because the case was ongoing.

“All we want is that action be taken against those who are guilty according to the law. But we are more interested in why the assassination happened,” he said.

The Irrawaddy’s Tin Htet Paing contributed reporting.