Myanmar's military again seeks to replace its UN ambassador

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Myanmar’s military rulers are again seeking to replace the country’s ambassador to the United Nations, who opposed their Feb. 1 ouster of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and takeover of the government.

Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin says in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that he has appointed Aung Thurein, who left the military this year after 26 years, as Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador. A copy of the letter was obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

Lwin said in an accompanying letter that Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar's currently recognized U.N. ambassador, “has been terminated on Feb. 27, 2021, due to abuses of his assigned duty and mandate.”

In a dramatic speech to a General Assembly meeting on Myanmar on Feb. 26 -- weeks after the military takeover -- Tun appealed for “the strongest possible action from the international community” to restore democracy to the country. He also urged all countries to strongly condemn the coup, refuse to recognize the military regime, and ask the military leaders to respect the November 2020 elections won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.

“We will continue to fight for a government which is of the people, by the people, for the people,” Tun said in a speech that drew loud applause from diplomats in the assembly chamber who called it “powerful,” “brave” and “courageous.”

The military’s previous attempt to oust Tun failed and there has been no reported action on the foreign minister’s letter, which is dated May 12.

The 193-member General Assembly is in charge of accrediting diplomats. A request for accreditation must first go to its nine-member credentials committee, which this year comprises Cameroon, China, Iceland, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Trinidad and Tobago, Tanzania, United States and Uruguay.

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said that as far as he understands no meeting of the credentials committee has been scheduled.

In June, the U.N. said the secretary-general indicated that the results of the November election that gave a strong second mandate to Suu Kyi's party must be upheld.

The London-based Myanmar Accountability Project condemned the military’s attempts to replace Tun as well as Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Kyaw Zwar Minn, who also remains loyal to Suu Kyi. The Guardian newspaper reported in April that Minn remains in limbo after being locked out of the London embassy by his deputy and the country’s military attache.

The Guardian quoted Minn as saying his friends and relatives in Myanmar had been forced into hiding and he did not feel safe in the ambassador’s residence, which he still occupied at the time.

The Myanmar Accountability Project’s director, Chris Gunness, said the military is seeking to replace Minn with former fighter pilot Htun Aung Kyaw.

Both Thurein and Kyaw have strong military backgrounds that “make ugly reading,” Gunness said, adding that Thurein’s remaining in the military until 2021 strongly suggests he served during the Feb. 1 military takeover and the crackdown afterward.

He called it “an affront to the world body” that the military is seeking to send to the U.N. “a man with such strong connections to an institution with blood on its hands and which stood accused of genocide in The Hague even before the coup.”

A U.N.-established investigation has recommended the prosecution of Myanmar’s top military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for the 2017 military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims that forced 700,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.

In January 2020, the United Nations’ top court based in The Hague, Netherlands, ordered Myanmar to do all it can to prevent genocide against the Rohingya still in Myanmar. The ruling by the International Court of Justice came despite appeals by Suu Kyi for the judges to drop the case amid her denials of genocide by the armed forces.

Gunness said British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other leaders have condemned the coup and the UK and its allies have imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s military leaders and their commercial interests. He said it would be “a gross double standard and a moral outrage” for the government to accredit Kyaw, saying he doesn’t represent the legitimate government and "served in an army that stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

He also urged Britain to use its influence at the U.N. to ensure that the credentials committee doesn't accredit Thurein.

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