Honesty, integrity and the ‘nature of youth’

If the February 25 press conference at the Drug Elimination Museum was designed to put an end to the mystery of who killed U Ko Ni, then it failed miserably.

MINISTER for Home Affairs Lieutenant-General Kyaw Swe, his deputy Major-General Aung Soe and police chief Police Major-General Zaw Win put in a very unconvincing performance.

In one breath they declared the case closed, with three of the killers apprehended and another on the run. But, wait a minute… then they suggested, indirectly, that members of the Muslim community may have been responsible for Ko Ni’s killing.

The statement that those allegedly responsible were motivated by a youthful extremism – the minister explained that their actions were indicative of lu nge thabawa (the nature of youth) – provoked much incredulity. Let’s not forget that these men were in their 40s and 50s. At 53, the gunman, U Kyi Lin, is just a few years younger than Lt-Gen Kyaw Swe.

And then there was the response to the question of why the Union Solidarity and Development Party lawmaker U Lin Zaw Tun, who was present in April 2016 when the plot was first hatched, had been so quickly dismissed as a potential suspect. The minister suggested it was incomprehensible that a parliamentarian would be involved in such a heinous act. For similar reasons, he said, no monks could have been involved.

But these flaws and inconsistencies in the official account don’t really matter, at least for the purposes of formal justice. The military (and the police force as a subset of the military) has made clear that this will be the end of the investigation. As usual, it is the final arbiter. Judging by some of the testy responses on Saturday, some of its members still miss the good old days when reporters were told in advance which questions to ask – or else.

But there is one arena where the military does not rule supreme: the court of public opinion.

There will always be a cloud over the investigation into the death of Ko Ni. Certainly, few will be convinced that the plot stops with the four accused or that the military has properly pursued all lines of investigation.

We’ve also had leaks, misinformation and appalling delays in releasing new facts. Consider that U Zay Yar Phyo was apprehended on February 3 at a monastery in Tarmwe Township, but confirmation of his arrest was only officially announced on February 25 – more than three weeks later. This does not suggest a commitment to accountability, transparency or the truth.

And why should we accept the military’s version of events at face value? This is, after all, the institution that produced those who killed Ko Ni.

Contrast that with the National League for Democracy. In Ko Ni and taxi driver Ko Nay Win, the party has been associated with two people of the highest integrity. Those who knew Ko Ni speak of him in the highest terms for his honesty and integrity, while Nay Win showed remarkable bravery in his involvement in chasing down Kyi Lin before being fatally shot.

As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi noted at a memorial ceremony on February 26, “We must encourage ourselves to be brave by keeping in our minds that we have martyr-like heroes and good citizens among our prestigious NLD.”

The NLD is not without its faults. But thanks to members like Ko Ni and Nay Win, it will continue to command the people’s support over the military and its proxies.

This editorial originally appeared in the March 2 edition of Frontier.

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