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One year on, alleged mastermind of Ko Ni’s assassination still at large

Retired Lieutenant Colonel Aung Win Khine, pictured here, is the alleged mastermind of a plot to kill the prominent lawyer Ko Ni.

One year after the shocking assassination of Burmese legal scholar Ko Ni, the primary suspect in the killing remains at large, and law enforcement authorities continue to face scrutiny over their handling of the case.

A legal adviser for the National League for Democracy, 65-year-old Ko Ni was gunned down on 29 January 2017 at Yangon International Airport, after returning to the commercial capital following a trip to Indonesia as part of a Burmese delegation discussing interfaith dynamics and national reconciliation.

The alleged assassin, Kyi Lin, was arrested at the airport shortly after the murder, in large part thanks to a vigilante cohort that chased him down including 42-year-old Nay Win, who was also shot dead in pursuit of the gunman.

Burmese police suspect that Aung Win Khine, a former army lieutenant-colonel, masterminded the assassination. He has not been apprehended by authorities, however, despite national law enforcement efforts to track him down and a “Red Notice” submitted to Interpol, the global law enforcement network. A Red Notice alerts authorities within all countries party to the international policing organisation that he is a wanted man in Burma.

To this day, he remains listed on the Interpol Red Notice roster.

Although Aung Win Khine has not been arrested as yet, four alleged co-conspirators have appeared in court in connection with the assassination, including Kyi Lin. They are facing charges under Penal Code murder provisions, and Burma’s Arms and Immigration acts, at Yangon’s Northern District Court.

The prosecution has lined up some 80 witnesses to give testimony in the case.

At a recent hearing on 25 January, Aung Win Zaw, one of the suspected co-conspirators and the brother of Aung Win Khine, told journalists waiting outside the courthouse that his brother did not mastermind Ko Ni’s assassination and that the fugitive would resurface when the time was right.

“I don’t want to say anymore [at the risk of] influencing the current trial,” Aung Win Zaw said.

Other remarks from that defendant have reportedly been less banal: At a hearing on 12 January, he is said to have told the waiting journalists and attorneys for the prosecution “Htamin wa aung sa htar” — a Burmese phrase that roughly translates to “eat while you can,” which can be either genial or menacing, depending on the tone and context. According to lawyer Robert San Aung, in this case, it was the latter.

Aung Win Zaw denies that he threated the lawyers and journalists in attendance at the hearing earlier this month, and has said he intends to sue Robert San Aung under section 8(f) of the 2017 Law Protecting the Privacy and Security of Citizens, which covers unlawfully interfering “with a citizen’s personal or family matters or act[ing] in any way to slander or harm their reputation.”

Speaking to DVB last week, Robert San Aung reiterated his claim that Aung Win Zaw had made the threatening remarks at the 12 January hearing, and said he did not fear any counter-suit that the accused might bring against him.

“I will monitor him, as to whether he files a lawsuit to the court,” Robert San Aung said.

Meanwhile, another controversy has surfaced in relation to the case, after a photo that was purportedly taken inside Insein Prison was uploaded by the online news outlet Myanmar Muslim Media on 24 January. It is said to show three of the four men arrested in connection with Ko Ni’s murder — Kyi Lin, Aung Win Zaw and Aung Win Tun — celebrating a Buddhist robe-offering ceremony, believed to have been taken earlier this month at the infamous Yangon penitentiary.

The photo of nine men includes Buddhist nationalists already sentenced for a violent incident in Yangon’s Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township last year.

Robert San Aung said prison authorities should not have allowed the aforementioned convicts and those accused in the Ko Ni killing to jointly commemorate the “Ka Htein” robe-giving occasion under such circumstances.

“I don’t understand why the prison authority allowed them to do that. It shouldn’t be,” he said. “I didn’t find any rule that says the prison authority can allow these kinds of detainees to participate in the festival. The relevant officials should examine the prison authority. They [the suspected men] are not normal criminals. They have committed the assassination of an important person for our country.”

Tun Kyi, a member of the Former Political Prisoners Society, said he had never heard of inmates being allowed to participate in religious events such as Ka Htein while incarcerated, adding that if the claims of Myanmar Muslim Media and Robert San Aung were true, it would be a manifestation of corruption at Insein Prison.

“This photo means that the assassination is related with the Ministry of Home Affairs, prison department and these men [in the photo]; and that the men who are suspected of the assassination have a good relationship with nationalists who were sentenced for the Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township case,” he said.

Attempts by DVB to get comment from the warden of Insein Prison were unsuccessful.