US Condemns Plot to Harm or Kill Burma’s Ambassador to UN

US Condemns Plot to Harm or Kill Burma’s Ambassador to UN
Burma's ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun addresses the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on March 11, 2019. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

The United States on Saturday condemned a thwarted plot to attack Burma’s U.N. ambassador in New York, saying it fits a “disturbing pattern” of authoritarian leaders and their supporters seeking to persecute opponents around the world.

Two Burmese citizens were arrested in New York state on charges alleging that they conspired to oust Burma’s ambassador to the United Nations by injuring—or even killing—him.

Phyo Hein Htut and Ye Hein Zaw plotted to seriously injure or kill Burma’s ambassador in an attack that was to take place on American soil, U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a release Friday.

Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, who represents Burma’s (also known as Myanmar) elected civilian government which was overthrown by the military in February, told Reuters on Wednesday that a threat had been made against him and U.S. authorities had stepped up his security.

The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said on Saturday that the threat “fits a disturbing pattern of authoritarian leaders and their supporters reaching across the globe … to persecute and repress journalists, activists, and others who dare speak or stand against them.”

Thomas-Greenfield cited Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, a Belarusian athlete who refused to return home from the Tokyo Olympics and sought refuge in Poland, and a thwarted plot by several Iranians to kidnap a New York journalist and rights activist who was critical of Iran.

“These are only the most recent acts of transnational repression, and they must be met with the condemnation of the world and with full and certain accountability,” Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement.

According to court documents in White Plains federal court, a Thailand arms dealer who sells weapons to the Burmese military hired Htut and Zaw to hurt the ambassador to try to force him to step down. If that didn’t work, the ambassador was to be killed, authorities said.

Burma’s military overthrew the country’s civilian government early this year. Tun, Burma’s currently recognized U.N. ambassador, staunchly opposed the ouster of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. In a speech to the General Assembly in late February, Tun called for “the strongest possible action from the international community” to restore democracy.

Burma’s military has tried to remove Tun from his post, but the 193-member General Assembly is responsible for accrediting diplomats and has not taken action at the military’s urging.

The plot to maim or kill Tun was to be carried out in Westchester County, where the ambassador lives, according to two criminal complaints.

Htut last month was contacted by the arms dealer, who wanted to pay several thousand dollars for Htut to carry out the attack, the complaints said. Htut received a $2,000 advance on July 23, it added.

After the FBI learned of the plot on Tuesday, it arranged to interview Htut on Wednesday, when Htut described the plan, which included initially tampering with the ambassador’s tires to cause an accident, the complaint said. It said Htut received $4,000 in payments to carry out the attack and was to be paid another $1,000 once it was finished.

In a complaint against Zaw, authorities said Zaw admitted after his arrest that he sent the $4,000 to Htut.

Htut, 28, and Zaw, 20, are each charged with conspiracy to assault and make a violent attack upon a foreign official, which carries a maximum sentence upon conviction of five years in prison.

At an initial appearance in White Plains federal court Friday, Htut consented to detention. Zaw awaited an initial appearance.

Messages seeking comment from their lawyers were not immediately returned.

The Associated Press contributed to this report