Guns, drugs and drones: Who knew what and when in the Phyo Ko Ko Tint San case?

The sensational arrest of a former USDP minister’s son has raised questions about the competence and priorities of military intelligence and Special Branch.

By SITHU AUNG MYINT | FRONTIER

ILLEGAL WEAPONS and drugs were seized at Nay Pyi Taw International Airport on October 15 from U Phyo Ko Ko Tint San, 41, a hotelier and the son of U Tint San, who held ministerial posts in the previous Union Solidarity and Development Party government. Phyo Ko Ko Tint San was among the USDP candidates who were defeated in the 2015 election.

After the discovery at the airport, police searched Phyo Ko Ko Tint San’s hotel in Nay Pyi Taw and his properties in Yangon, confiscating more weapons and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, as well as bullet-proof vests, communications equipment and drones. On October 18, the Ministry of Home Affairs said the seizures included six assault rifles and 13 pistols.

Many are wondering why a former USDP candidate and government minister’s son would need to accumulate a large amount of weapons and ammunition. There is also speculation about how such a large cache of firearms could be accumulated without the knowledge of military intelligence and the police Special Branch. The way the case is being handled by the Myanmar Police Force is also attracting attention.

Phyo Ko Ko Tint San’s troubles began when an X-ray scanner at Nay Pyi Taw airport detected guns and ammunition in luggage for a flight to Yangon with two associates. The bag also contained methamphetamines. There is speculation that the bag in question was taken to the airport by mistake; the plan was for the bag to be sent to Yangon by car.

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If correct, that means the weapons haul was only uncovered by accident. If the bag had gone in the car as planned, it would not have been detected. It can be deduced from this that military intelligence and the Special Branch either did not know or pretended not to know that Phyo Ko Ko Tint San owned weapons and ammunition.

Phyo Ko Ko Tint San has in the past uploaded numerous pictures of himself with handguns and even an M-16 rifle on his Facebook page. It’s hard to believe that military intelligence and the Special Branch are unaware of these images. But they apparently never investigated, even if only to determine if they were real weapons or harmless copies. It’s worth asking why.

The detection of this case has raised questions about the priorities of military intelligence – formally known as Military Affairs Security – and the MPF since the change of government. The USDP government has been replaced by the civilian National League for Democracy government headed by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in which the Tatmadaw retains considerable power through its control of the Defence and Border Affairs ministries, as well as Home Affairs. Military intelligence and the Special Branch need to adjust to changing political circumstances.

They always kept a close watch on those who might have posed a threat to the USDP government and they should be just as alert against potential enemies of the NLD administration. But this has not happened, as has been demonstrated by the brazen assassination in January of prominent lawyer and NLD legal adviser, U Ko Ni, and by the accidental discovery of Phyo Ko Ko Tint San’s cache of weapons and ammunition.

Ko Ni is known to have been under surveillance before the NLD took office. He continued to be closely watched after the change of government yet he was killed in broad daylight by former military officers.

It has been interesting to watch how the Ministry of Home Affairs has handled the Ko Ni assassination and Phyo Ko Ko Tint San’s arrest.

Minister for Home Affairs Lieutenant-General Kyaw Swe blamed the assassination of Ko Ni on the wrongdoing of young men, as if murder was a trifling matter. The minister seemed to have forgotten that he is just a few years older than the alleged plotters, who are all in their 40s and 50s.

In Phyo Ko Ko Tint San’s case the ministry seems to be back-peddling and claiming the case is not as serious as it first seemed, saying those involved were allegedly planning to set up a security company.

During the military dictatorship, anyone caught with such a large amount of weapons and ammunition as seized from Phyo Ko Ko Tint San and his associates could expect to be charged with treason and be sentenced to death or life imprisonment.

Phyo Ko Ko Tint San has been charged with a range of offences, including illegal possession of weapons and drug charges. While they carry potentially hefty prison time, judges will have some discretion in the length of the sentence if he is found guilty. There is speculation that he has not been charged with more serious offences because he is receiving favourable treatment.

It is worrying that he was apparently able to acquire such a large cache of weapons undetected.

There are many people who have reason to resent the NLD government: people who lost power, influence and moneymaking opportunities. If they too acquired such weapons, they could possibly use them to take revenge or exert influence over the country.

It is up to military intelligence and Special Branch to ensure that members of the Tatmadaw and civilian government are properly protected from harm.

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