A second suspect has been arrested in connection with the high-profile assassination of Ko Ni, a top legal adviser for the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, Burma’s President’s Office announced Friday night.
The man, named Aung Win Zaw, 46, is accused of being an accomplice of Kyi Linn, who was arrested after allegedly shooting dead Ko Ni at close range with a pistol in the compound of Rangoon International Airport on Sunday evening.
Police apprehended Aung Win Zaw on a bridge over the Salween River in Karen State at 4:20 p.m. on Monday, but his arrest had not been announced until now. Police arrested Kyi Linn, 53, outside the airport compound within minutes of the killing.
Police officers and a former fellow prisoner have told Myanmar Now that two suspects had committed crimes together in the past and served lengthy prison sentences in Obo Prison in Mandalay for smuggling Buddha statues to neighbouring countries. They were released in a presidential amnesty in 2014, the sources said. Kyi Linn also served an earlier sentence for the same crime in the late 1980s.
Aung Soe, 51, a former fellow inmate at Obo Prison, had told a Myanmar Now reporter on Monday evening — a day after the killing — that he recognised Kyi Linn from pictures of the murder scene.
Aung Soe also told Myanmar Now on Monday that Aung Win Zaw was likely the man who assigned the killing, adding that he was approached by the second suspect in June last year for an assassination assignment.
Aung Soe claimed he was told to “kill a diplomat of a foreign religion in broad daylight in downtown Yangon. If successful, this will be good for the country, our race and religion.” He said he declined an offer of around $100,000, weapons training, and an arrangement for a hiding place on the Burma-Thai border.
An uncle of Aung Win Zaw in Rangoon confirmed with Myanmar Now that the second arrested man was his nephew, based on a photo that was released by authorities on Friday night. He declined to comment on the case, however.
The former cellmate said he knew Aung Win Zaw from Obo Prison, adding that he was a former military lieutenant who had first been jailed in the 1990s for disciplinary charges.
Aung Win Zaw allegedly told his former cellmate last year that he was able to offer such money and means for the assignment as a group of powerful people had supported him after his prison release so he could carry out clandestine activities for them.
“Both Aung Win Zaw and Kyi Linn are the kind of individuals who would do anything for money and the two are very close,” Aung Soe said, adding that the assassin had shown a calm and reserved demeanour in prison, while the second suspect was more outgoing and boastful.
Police have so far not announced a motive for the assassination, although it is widely regarded as a political assassination given the fact that Ko Ni was a prominent legal adviser on constitutional issues for the NLD’s leadership, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the state counsellor and de facto government leader.
The President’s Office announced in a statement on 30 January that the murder of Ko Ni was intended to destabilise the country. Ko Ni was also a Muslim and Burma has seen inter-religious tensions in recent years.
On Thursday, Rangoon Division Police Chief Brigadier-General Win Naing told Myanmar Now that National Police headquarters had taken control of the investigation. Win Naing did not reveal police had already arrested a second suspect at the time.
Asked about Aung Win Zaw and Kyi Linn’s involvement and motivation, he said, “They probably did this just for money,” without elaborating on who might have masterminded the killing.
The police have come under growing public pressure for the lack of information on the investigation’s progress, sparking lively debates on social media on possible conspiracies behind the killing. The police remain under direct command of Burma’s military and have little trust among the public.
On Tuesday, a police document reportedly leaked via a messaging app appeared to be part of the accused murder’s interrogation transcript, in which he said he was offered a car for the murder.
This story was originally published by Myanmar Now here.