Two Men From Myanmar Arrested in Plot to ‘Injure or Kill’ the Country’s UN Envoy, a Junta Foe

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Two Burmese men have been arrested for allegedly plotting to kill or injure Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations near New York, U.S. officials announced Friday.

A court filing states that the Burmese men, aged in their twenties, were involved in plans to attack Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun by tampering with the tires on his car to cause a crash while he was inside.

Kyaw Moe Tun has been a prominent critic of Myanmar’s military regime that seized power in a coup six months ago. He has refused demands of the junta to step down as ambassador and now represents the country’s civilian-led shadow government.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York said Phyo Hein Htut, 28, and Ye Hein Zaw, 20, were Myanmar citizens residing in New York. It said that in July, an arms dealer in Thailand who sells weapons to the Burmese military contacted Phyo Hein Htut and they agreed on a plan in which Phyo Hein Htut would hire attackers to hurt the ambassador in an attempt to force the ambassador to step down from his post.

“As alleged, Phyo Hein Htut and Ye Hein Zaw plotted to seriously injure or kill Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations in a planned attack on a foreign official that was to take place on American soil,” said Audrey Strauss, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York in a comment accompanying the attorney’s office statement.

“If the Ambassador did not step down, then the Arms Dealer proposed that the attackers hired by Htut would kill the Ambassador,” the statement said.

Ye Hein Zaw allegedly served as intermediary making cash transfers to Phyo Hein Htut.

Both men have been charged with conspiracy to assault and make a violent attack upon a foreign official, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

The Associated Press reported that at an initial court appearance in a federal court Friday in White Plains, N.Y., Phyo Hein Htut consented to detention. Ye Hein Zaw awaited an initial appearance.

Messages seeking comment from their lawyers were not immediately returned, AP reported.

The attorney’s office statement did not directly implicate the junta of Gen. Min Aung Hlaing that seized power from the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, and is already facing a wave of international revulsion over the coup and the ensuing bloody crackdown. But Friday’s arrests are sure to fuel speculation about whether the military had a hand in the alleged plot against a senior diplomat.

“As alleged in today’s federal charges, these defendants reached across borders and oceans in designing a violent plot against an international leader on United States soil,” New York Police Department Commissioner Dermot Shea was quoted as saying in the statement.

A screenshot of mobile phone texts between Ye Hein Zaw and Phyo Hein Htut regarding advance payments through a money transfer app for the alleged plot to attack Myanmar’s UN ambassador. Credit: U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York

Plea to UN draws treason charge

On Thursday, it emerged that Kyaw Moe Tun had been put under heightened security because of a threat against him. The ambassador learned of the threat made against him on Tuesday and immediately reported it to police, he told Reuters. He declined to give further details when he spoke to RFA on Thursday.

The junta has yet to comment on the alleged plot.

A court filing states that Phyo Hein Htut “agreed in substance” with the Thai arms dealer on a plan for Phyo Hein Htut “to hire others to tamper with the tires on the Ambassador’s car to cause a crash while the Ambassador was inside.”

Ye Hein Zaw allegedly contacted Phyo Hein Htut by cellphone and transferred approximately $4,000 to him through a money transfer app as an advance payment on the plot to attack the ambassador.

Later, during a recorded phone conversation with Ye Hein Zaw, Phyo Hein Htut discussed how the planned attackers would require an additional $1,000 to conduct the attack in Westchester County, where the ambassador lives, north of New York City.

For an additional payment, the attackers could “finish off” the ambassador.  In response, Ye Hein Zaw agreed to pay the additional $1,000 and to try to obtain the additional money.

Kyaw Moe Tun, 52, had represented Myanmar’s civilian-led government which was overthrown in a Feb. 1 military coup, but now represents the country’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), formed in opposition to the junta.

In late February, he made world headlines with an impassioned plea to the 193-member UN General Assembly for the world body to “use any means necessary to take action” to restore democracy and ensure the security of the people.

“We need further strongest possible action from the international community to immediately end the military coup, to stop oppressing the innocent people, to return the state power to the people, and to restore the democracy,” Kyaw Moe Tun said in an appeal that got him sacked by the junta the next day, but drew plaudits for courage.

In March, the junta issued an arrest warrant and charged him with high treason for his speech to the UN General Assembly under Article 122(2) of the Penal Code, for those committing the offense outside Myanmar. He had sought foreign help in “attempting to destroy” the military government, it said.

A screenshot of mobile phone texts between Ye Hein Zaw and Phyo Hein Htut regarding advance payments through a money transfer app for the alleged plot to attack Myanmar’s UN ambassador. Credit: U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of New York

Additional reporting by RFA’s Myanmar Service.