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Myanmar Says Gunman Killed Rights Lawyer to Undermine Stability

YANGON, Myanmar — A day after a prominent human rights lawyer was fatally shot in Yangon, Myanmar’s government said on Monday that the gunman had been trying to undermine stability in the country.

The lawyer, U Ko Ni, 65, an adviser to Myanmar’s leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was shot in the head at close range as he was leaving Yangon International Airport on Sunday. The police arrested a suspect, identified as U Kyi Lin, and seized two handguns.

“According to an earlier interrogation, the motivation of the incident is to undermine the country’s stability,” the president’s office said in a statement.

Mr. Ko Ni, a Muslim and a member of the governing National League for Democracy, was returning from Indonesia with other government officials and civic leaders who had traveled there to discuss democracy and conflict resolution. He wrote six books on human rights issues and democratic elections, and he was actively involved in the interfaith peace movement.

Myanmar has experienced sectarian violence between the majority Buddhist population and minority Muslims. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has faced international criticism for military operations against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority, in Rakhine State that has led to a humanitarian crisis.

The president’s office said it would increase security around the country, and it urged the public to remain “aware about instigation over religion and racial issues.”

U Thein Than Oo, a prominent lawyer and a colleague of Mr. Ko Ni’s, said in a telephone interview, “This time I agree with the government’s statement” about the killing.

“The political assassination is absolutely threatening stability here,” he said.

“The motive of killing the lawyer at a public area, the Yangon airport,” he added, “would be targeting firstly the N.L.D. leadership, secondly political and civic leaders who want to amend the military drafted constitution, and thirdly the peace process.”

At Mr. Ko Ni’s funeral on Monday afternoon, tens of thousands paid their respects to him as a hero of the nation.

A leader of the National League for Democracy, U Tin Oo, and the mayor of Yangon, U Maung Maung Soe, both attended the funeral; Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi did not.

“It was so crowded,” said Daw Wai Wai Nu, a Rohingya Muslim activist who was invited to the White House by President Barack Obama in 2015. “I couldn’t even get into the area where his body was kept at the cemetery hall,” she said.

Myanmar’s armed forces announced on Monday that they would cooperate with all security units to find any other suspects involved in the shooting. Maj. Gen. Myo Zaw Thein, the commander of the Yangon region, visited the bodies of Mr. Ko Ni and a taxi driver who was also killed in the shooting.

The military is still the most powerful institution in Myanmar, even though Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party handily won in a national election in 2015. Her party took office in March 2016 and shares power with the military, which controls three important ministries: home affairs, border affairs and defense.

Human rights advocates have called for an independent investigation into Mr. Ko Ni’s killing.

Source: NYT > World

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