Seizure of Firearms Raises Security Concerns for The Lady

By The Irrawaddy 23 October 2017

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi remains the most popular politician and a public figure among the Myanmar public inside and outside of the country. But, like her late father who was assassinated by his rivals in 1947, she has no shortage of enemies.

The issue of her safety has been discussed among the Myanmar public for decades and recently the seizure of illegal firearms and illicit drugs at Naypyitaw’s airport again raised concerns for the safety of the State Counselor.

Phyo Ko Ko Tint San, son of the sports minister who served under president U Thein Sein, and two ACE employees were detained before boarding a Yangon-bound Myanmar National Airlines flight. Police found them with illegal firearms and drugs.

Like many spoiled children of former generals, Phyo Ko Ko Tint San, chairman of ACE Company, enjoyed privileges and sweet business deals.

And, like perhaps many before them walking into the airport with illegal firearms, they suspected they could pass the x-ray scanner without any problems. This time, however, they were caught.

Police, under pressure from the public to follow up the case, searched ACE hotel in Naypyitaw and a house belonging to Phyo Ko Ko Tint San in Yangon where they found more weapons including eight firearms, bullets, a camouflage jacket bearing his name and the Myanmar national emblem, one long-sleeved black shirt with the Myanmar national emblem and skull and crossed bones emblem, two sniper scopes, a military green compass, a walkie-talkie, a gun sight, and two bullet-proof jackets.

What was he planning to do?

According to the police investigation, Phyo Ko Ko Tint San, who is now in custody, was planning to establish a security company. The badges and logos discovered in his property, however, are problematic. “National Security Council” a letter in badge showed. He had obviously stockpiles firearms, police said. He had been doing it without any legal permission.

Police have so far detained 12 people in connection with the case, and reportedly seized over 20 firearms and thousands of bullets at his house, company offices, and hotel in Naypyitaw and Yangon. There are surely more suspects and arrests in the pipeline if police are instructed to clampdown on these criminals, informed sources also believe that more firearms are yet to be found.

Senior police officers who were involved the case said the seizure of firearms was not directly related to the security of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi but it is learned that the military has warned the State Counselor over her security arrangements and she has replied that she would take extra caution.

One of the camouflage jackets discovered is identical to that of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s bodyguards. This has caused concern among her supporters and National League for Democracy party members.

The government spokesperson said that security has been increasingly tightened for the State Counselor since 2016 after her name appeared on a hit list sent by the militant group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to police in Malaysia.

In any case, foreign terrorists may take aim at Daw Aung San Suu Kyi due to the crisis in Rakhine Region in which hundreds of thousands of self-identifying Rohingya fled to a neighboring country due to the military’s clearance operation, but many also assume that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s real threat could come from within.

Some politicians and oligarchs who once enjoyed lucrative business opportunities and political power but have lost vested business interests under the current administration may have a plan to harm her. Many powerful groups associated with former generals and business cronies are no doubt unhappy with her and her administration.

Some pro-Suu Kyi political observers suspect that a group of once wealthy and powerful people have been trying to create instability since her party came into power. They may think the instability in the country can pave a way for the military to step in and retake power.

Phyo Ko Ko Tint San is a member of the Union Solidarity Development Party and contested, in the 2012 by-election, Irrawaddy Region’s Myaungmya Township seat. Security concerns for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi have also been raised as several young privileged delinquents who actively use social media also posted photos of firearms and made threats to kill her.

Union Solidarity Development Association (known as the USDA) was established in 1993 under the guidance of the military junta and its patron Snr-Gen Than Shwe. The association became a legal political party before the 2010 general election and contested the rigged election that year then it became ruling party.

Many of her supporters and colleagues are genuinely and deeply worried for the safety of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is now under the protection of the police and special forces who are under the control of the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Under the previous regime, when she was opposition figure, there were several attacks on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

In 2003, state-sponsored mobs attacked her convoy in Sagaing Region and dozens of people were killed as a result, but Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and some top leaders narrowly escaped harm. But the leaders were placed under house arrest for many more years though they did not commit any crime. The incident was known as the Depayin massacre as it took place near Depayin village.

After the attacks, western nations tightened sanctions against the Than Shwe regime and neighboring governments openly condemned the attacks.

It was Snr-Gen Than Shwe and his close associates who masterminded the attacks. He ordered two of his trusted generals—Gen. Soe Win who was later prime minister between 2004 and 2007 and Gen Ye Myint—to mobilize criminals, members of the then USDA, and mobs to conduct the attacks.

Myanmar’s most feared intelligence chief and former prime minister Gen Khin Nyunt mentioned in his memoirs about the infamous Depayin massacre and conceded that top leaders were involved in the assassination plan but took credit that his intelligence officers had save Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s life.

This time the tough job will come to the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is under the direct control of the armed forces according to Myanmar’s constitution.

The public has not been satisfied with the police’s slow reaction to this case. What’s more, who caught the assassin of National League for Democracy legal advisor U Ko Ni at the Yangon International Airport? Not police but a group of taxi drivers who were hailed as heroes.

“The most important thing is to seize remaining weapons and arrest accomplices,” Deputy Home Affairs Minister Maj-Gen Aung Soe told reporters in Naypyitaw. “So, we are working to make sure they don’t escape.”

He needs to keep his promise and words. The world will have to watch how Myanmar’s police department under the home affairs ministry—who have received funding and training from western nations including EU under U Thein Sein period—will show they are working around the clock to keep tracking those criminals who are at large but also making ongoing investigation transparent.

Many still see Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s life as indispensable in this fragile transition period and failing state in the country. Citizens also witnessed the untimely departure of Aung San and his cabinet, they can’t afford to see it again at a time when the country faces internal and external threats and mounting pressure to solve pressing issues at home.