By HEIN KO SOE | FRONTIER
YANGON — The gunman who fatally shot U Ko Ni at Yangon International Airport last January has told Yangon’s Northern District Court that he was “forced” to kill the distinguished lawyer.
U Kyi Lin shot Ko Ni in the head on January 29, 2017, while the senior legal adviser to the National League for Democracy waited for a taxi with his grandson in his arms, in a rare political assassination that shocked the country. He was arrested at the scene after shooting dead taxi driver U Nay Win, who tried to prevent him from escaping.
Kyi Lin testified yesterday that shooting Ko Ni was an act of self-defence as he and his family had been threatened. He did not reveal who was behind the threats.
The motive for Ko Ni’s killing has not been properly explained but is widely seen as being politically motivated.
In his role with the NLD Ko Ni is thought to have been working on reforms that would have stripped the military of some of its considerable powers that are enshrined in the 2008 constitution. He was also a rare outspoken voice for the country’s Muslim population.
Kyi Lin’s lawyer, U Kyaw Kyaw Htaik, told Frontier yesterday morning that a man named U Myint Swe was responsible for Ko Ni’s murder, and that Myint Swe himself had since been killed.
“When [Kyi Lin] made the allegation he did not name the people behind the killing because he did not have long to speak, according to the court rules,” he said. “But he will make a full statement once the trial hearings begin.”
Although the murder occurred almost 18 months ago, the case is still at the pre-trial stage.
Kyaw Kyaw Htaik said Myint Swe was a friend of Kyi Lin and that they had worked together to smuggle cultural antiques overseas. He claimed Myint Swe was killed by an antiques buyer in Kayin State’s Myawaddy Township, but he did not say when.
U Robert San Aung, who is representing the family of Ko Ni, said he suspected this was a cover-up.
“By blaming a dead person they are changing their story about who was behind the [assassination]. I think they want to protect those who were responsible, so they are blaming other people,” he said.
At a press conference on February 25, 2017, Minister for Home Affairs Lieutenant-General Kyaw Swe told reporters the organisers of Ko Ni’s killing were motivated by “extreme patriotism”, and alleged the plot was hatched in a teashop in April 2016.
Speaking outside court yesterday, another lawyer for Ko Ni’s family, U Nay La, said the defence would have to present evidence to prove it was an act of self-defence. “If they do this in court, we will question them and investigate their claims,” he said. “We also need to ask Kyi Lin about who blackmailed his family and how they did it.”
Defence lawyers yesterday presented a list of 50 witnesses they intend to call over the coming months. The next hearing is scheduled for July 5 and hearings are expected to be held twice weekly.
Kyi Lin is charged with premeditated murder under Section 302(1)(b) of the Penal Code, in addition to other charges including the illegal transportation and possession of a firearm under Section 19(d) and 19(f) of the Arms Act.
He is one of four defendants in the case. U Zay Yar Phyo and U Aung Win Zaw are also charged with premeditated murder under 302(1)(b). U Aung Win Tun was charged under Section 212 of the Penal Code of harbouring an offender and has been released on bail.
U Aung Win Khaing, who Kyaw Swe alleged masterminded the killing together with Zay Yar Phyo, has not yet been arrested. According to police, he was last seen in Nay Pyi Taw. Both Aung Win Khaing and Zay Yar Phyo are former military officers.