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Shock, outpourings of grief and calls for justice have followed the apparent assassination of National League for Democracy legal adviser Ko Ni, who was gunned down on Sunday evening outside Rangoon International Airport.
Ko Ni, 65, died on the spot and the shooter was apprehended at the scene after reportedly also killing a taxi driver who was attempting to apprehend him at around 5 p.m. on Sunday. The alleged killer was identified in state media as Kyi Lin of Mandalay’s Maha Aungmyay Township.
The fatal shooting, a rarity in the commercial capital, left authorities searching for answers.
Monday’s edition of the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar ascribed no motive to the killing, reporting that an investigation is ongoing.
The NLD released a statement on Sunday saying the party was “deeply saddened” by the loss of a man who was a dedicated supporter of the party’s agenda and “had always provided necessary assistance and consultation on legal matters.”
“His death is an irreplaceable loss for the NLD and [State Counsellor] Daw Aung San Suu Kyi,” read the statement.
“We strongly condemn the assassination of U Ko Ni as a lowly act of violence in opposition to the NLD’s political course,” it added.
The statement also honoured the slain taxi driver, Nay Win, who is survived by his wife and three children.
“We would like to urge fellow NLD members not to overreact to the incident and keep calm in coping with the situation while continuing their political undertakings,” it concluded.
Ko Shine, founder of the Interfaith Youth Coalition on Aid in Burma, said Ko Ni’s work in the legal field — including his involvement in the drafting of the State Counsellor Law and constitutional reform — and his active role in promoting interreligious harmony, could both have motivated the killer.
Ko Shine said activists like himself were living in a climate of fear in the wake of the shooting.
“It is a great loss and a challenge to the Burmese government and the activists that have been walking on the democratisation process of the country,” he said. “It has challenged the safety and security of all of us, even me. I am totally unsafe now, to be here in this country. This is what I have been worrying about since yesterday.”
Ko Ni’s daughter, Yin Nwe Khine, was at the airport to greet her father upon his return on Sunday from Indonesia, where he was part of a delegation sent to the fellow Southeast Asian country to discuss national reconciliation and inter-faith dynamics.
She said she initially mistook the sound of gunfire for a tyre popping, only to realise that her father had been gunned down while cradling his grandchild.
“I don’t think my father did anything wrong. I have no regret for what he did that brought his demise,” she said. “He did what he thought had to be done and he died for it. Such is the life of every martyr.”
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group warned that Ko Ni’s assassination could enflame inter-religious tensions if not handled properly.
“It is essential that a prompt, credible and transparent investigation is conducted and that no stone is left unturned in finding the truth about this incident and who may have been behind it,” the group said.
“While the motive of the attacker is not known at this time, this killing has all the appearances of a hate crime, and is of grave concern at a time of heightened communal and religious tensions in Myanmar.”
Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, weighed in on Twitter, calling on Suu Kyi to “get to the bottom of” Ko Ni’s killing. The special rapporteur met with both the state counsellor and Ko Ni on her visit to Burma earlier this month.
“U Ko Ni’s family deserves an answer. We all do! Justice must be served! All responsible must be brought to justice!” she tweeted.
Additional reporting by Kimberley Phillips.