Will the truth behind the killing of U Ko Ni ever see the light of day?

The naming of a former Tatmadaw officer as a key suspect in the death of Ko Ni has left many despairing that those responsible for the murder will never face justice.


ON FEBRUARY 15, the Office of the President issued its second bulletin about the assassination of prominent lawyer and National League for Democracy legal adviser, U Ko Ni, 63.

In its first bulletin on February 3, issued five days after Ko Ni was shot in the head at point blank range outside Yangon International Airport after returning from an overseas trip, the President’s Office named the alleged killer as U Kyi Lin, 52, and said he had been hired by U Aung Win Zaw, 46.

The second bulletin said Aung Win Zaw had been offered K100 million to kill Ko Ni by his brother, U Aung Win Khine, 45, a former Tatmadaw lieutenant-colonel who was still at large.

It is curious that nearly three weeks after the assassination there had been no news conference about the incident by the Tatmadaw-controlled Ministry of Home Affairs, which has direct responsibility for law and order. It is curious because the Tatmadaw and the Myanmar Police Force, under the ministry, formed a combined team to investigate the assassination.

Support more independent journalism like this. Sign up to be a Frontier member.

The failure to hold a news conference about a murder that shocked the nation and in which a key suspect is a former senior Tatmadaw officer has many wondering if the truth behind the killing will ever emerge. It’s something I’d like to discuss this week.

The latest bulletin said Aung Win Khine, who was reported to have resigned from the Tatmadaw in 2014, had first approached his brother about killing Ko Ni in July 2016 but it is probable that the murder was planned before then.

This suggests that the former Tatmadaw man had been plotting to murder Ko Ni for some time. The time devoted to planning the hit and the revelation that Kyi Lin was offered K100 million has raised speculation that Aung Win Khine was not acting out of his own spite or malice towards Ko Ni, but that he was acting with the support of a group of people that wanted to destabilise the nation.

The identity of those involved remains unknown. However, the fact that a former Tatmadaw officer is a key suspect has led some to suspect that the killing might be connected to the Tatmadaw, or involve other former military officers.

In May 2003, when Myanmar was under junta rule, there was a notorious incident involving an attack on a convoy of NLD supporters accompanying party leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on a national tour. Known as the “Depayin Massacre”, the carefully planned attack in Sagaing Region took place under the cover of darkness and was reported to have cost the lives of 70 NLD supporters. No one has ever been held responsible for their deaths.

The then Secretary-1 of the State Peace and Development Council, Military Intelligence chief Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt, discussed the attack in his autobiography, My Life.

Khin Nyunt wrote:

“I would be lying if I say I did not know about the Depayin incident. I knew about it because it was a political matter and I was Secretary-1 then. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was touring the country with a long convoy led by a large number of motorbikes, giving organizational speeches. The junta was really worried.

“When the convoy reached Monywa, the chairman [Senior General Than Shwe] summoned five or six senior officers to his room. When we had all arrived he said that the convoy must be stopped by all means. When I suggested that violence should not be used, he disagreed.

“I think it was a good move by me because he did not assign to me any task [involving the convoy]. He assigned [Secretary-2] Lieutenant-General Soe Win as leader [of the operation] and Lieutenant-General Ye Myint as second leader and sent them to Monywa by helicopter.”

In other words, Khin Nyunt said that the attack on the NLD convoy took place on the orders of Senior General Than Shwe.

To return to the Ko Ni case, Kyi Lin was arrested soon after the killing on January 29 and Aung Win Zaw was arrested in the early hours of the following day in the Kayin State capital, Hpa-an. In another development on January 30, police searched Aung Win Khine’s house in Yangon’s Dawbon Township.

Coincidentally, the Tatmadaw released a statement through its True News Information Team on January 30 declaring its readiness to cooperate with the security organisations investigating the killing.

It is clear that “security organisations” and the Tatmadaw already knew on January 30 that one of the main suspects in the case was a former officer. Curiously, instead of releasing an image of Aung Win Khine on January 30 to assist with the effort to apprehend him, pictures of him were not released until 16 days later.

This sequence of events has made the people doubt whether those responsible for the death of Ko Ni will ever face justice.

More stories

Latest Issue

Stories in this issue
Myanmar enters 2021 with more friends than foes
The early delivery of vaccines is one of the many boons of the country’s geopolitics, but to really take advantage, Myanmar must bury the legacy of its isolationist past.
Will the Kayin BGF go quietly?
The Kayin State Border Guard Force has come under intense pressure from the Tatmadaw over its extensive, controversial business interests and there’s concern the ultimatum could trigger fresh hostilities in one of the country’s most war-torn areas.

Support our independent journalism and get exclusive behind-the-scenes content and analysis

Stay on top of Myanmar current affairs with our Daily Briefing and Media Monitor newsletters.

Sign up for our Frontier Fridays newsletter. It’s a free weekly round-up featuring the most important events shaping Myanmar