A leading advisor to Aung San Suu Kyi was assassinated in Yangon International Airport on Sunday, prompting the President to appeal for calm in the Buddhist-majority country and a call to remain watchful against agitation leading to religious disturbances.
Images posted on social media show a man in a pink shirt, shorts and sandals aiming a pistol at the back of Ko Ni’s head as he cradles a toddler.
Ko Ni, a prominent human rights lawyer and senior adviser to Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was shot dead once he entered the airport holding his grandchild on the 29th of January.
The 65-year-old senior official for the National League for Democracy (NLD), Party who is the author of six books on human rights issues and democratic elections, was shot in the back of the head at point blank range, in what appears to be a targeted assassination. The attack occurred following Mr. Ni’s trip to Indonesia, as part of a Myanmar government delegation to discuss interfaith tolerance and reconciliation.
“It seems the gunman knew the exact time of his arrival and was waiting to shoot him,” said a member of the team who traveled with Mr. Ko Ni to Indonesia, and who spoke on the condition of anonymity over concern for his safety:
“I was shocked and scared. It is unsafe here.”
Amnesty International, which worked with Ko Ni on human rights issues in Myanmar, has urged an independent investigation into the attack.
Mourning has taken place across the country for Mr. Ni, as well as a taxi driver who was killed trying to confront the attacker.
A suspect has been detained by the police, but at present the motive remains unclear.
Ko Ni was a rarity in Myanmar; a prominent political voice and a Muslim in the senior realms of government in a country dominated by Buddhists.
His daughter, Yin New Khine, said that her father was ‘often threatened’ because he had spoken out against the continuing influence of the military on politics.
“We were warned to be careful, but my father didn’t accept that easily. He always did what he thought was right,” She told Reuters in an interview.
“A lot of people hate us because we have different religious beliefs, so I think that might be why it happened to him, but I don’t know the reason.”
The standing President Htin Kyaw issued a statement following the attack, saying the killing was meant to disrupt peace and stability in the country and thanking citizens for their co-operation, which led to the arrest of the suspect. It also requested that people remain calm.
“The initial interrogation indicates the intention to destabilise the state,” said a translated copy of the statement, which requested that people remain calm and to be “careful of religious and racial incitements”.
“Investigations are being carried out by the government to find out the truth. Security has been heightened in the aftermath of the assassination.”
The assassination has come at a time when ethnic and religious tensions in Myanmar are reaching boiling point. Tens of thousands of Muslim Rohingya have fled Rakhine State on the Western Coast of Myanmar, in the midst of increasing ethnic violence and deteriorating humanitarian conditions.