The brutal, public killing — he was shot at point-blank range outside Yangon International Airport after returning from a government-sponsored trip to Indonesia to discuss democracy and conflict resolution — has the hallmark of a political assassination.
Ko Ni’s murder deprives Myanmar’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and the governing party of a talented and trusted adviser, notably on reforming Myanmar’s military-drafted Constitution. “We lost a hero,” U Win Htein, a spokesman for the party lamented, adding, “It is a bad situation here.”
Police in Myanmar announced on Wednesday that they have now arrested four men. One, U Kyi Lin, accused of being the gunman, reportedly shouted, “You can’t act like that,” before opening fire. What this statement means is unclear. U Thein Than Oo, a prominent lawyer and a colleague of Ko Ni, offered possible motivations, “firstly the NLD leadership, secondly political and civic leaders who want to amend the military-drafted Constitution, and thirdly the peace process,” referring to talks initiated by Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi between ethnic armed groups and the military.
The office of Myanmar’s president issued a statement saying, “The motivation of the incident is to undermine the country’s stability.” That would, of course, provide a perfect pretext for Myanmar’s military to reassert its power and further hobble the civilian government.
Another worry is that the murder of Ko Ni, a rare prominent Muslim in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, may unleash fresh spasms of sectarian violence between the country’s Buddhist majority and its Muslim minority.
Last October, attacks on three border guard posts signaled the emergence of an armed resistance, with international terror links, among Myanmar’s long-persecuted Rohingya Muslims. In response, Myanmar’s military launched a brutal counterinsurgency campaign that has resulted in a humanitarian crisis and sent tens of thousands of Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh.
It is incumbent on Myanmar’s authorities to launch a thorough, independent investigation into Ko Ni’s death, bring the perpetrators to justice, and send a strong message: assassinations will not be tolerated or go unpunished.