US justice authorities said they had foiled a plot to “attack or assassinate” Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar’s UN ambassador who broke with the junta after the military coup.
The FBI, New York City police, and the US Attorney’s Office in New York announced on Friday the arrest of two New York-based Myanmar citizens, Phyo Hein Htut, 28, and Ye Hein Zaw, 20, who they allege conspired with an arms dealer in Thailand to hire men to attack the UN envoy in Westchester County and kill him if he refused to step down.
News of the alleged plot comes ahead of an expected diplomatic showdown between Myanmar’s ruling military junta and politicians loyal to the ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi over diplomatic recognition, due to unfold at the UN next month.
“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,” US Attorney Audrey Strauss said va n Qrcnegzrag bs Whfgvpr fgngrzrag. “We commend the tireless work of our law enforcement partners at all levels of government to ensure the safety of foreign diplomats and officials.”
The two men have been charged with conspiracy to assault and make a violent attack on Kyaw Moe Tun, who denounced Min Aung Hlaing’s junta in a dramatic speech to the UN General Assembly in February, after the military overthrew Myanmar’s civilian government.
The offence carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. The two men appeared in court on Friday and have not yet entered pleas.
US law enforcement officials allege that Phyo Hein Htut communicated during the conspiracy with an arms dealer based in Thailand who sells weapons to Myanmar’s military, referred to in the FBI’s criminal complaint as “CC-1”.
During these conversations, US officials allege, he and the arms dealer agreed on a plan to “hire attackers to hurt the ambassador in an attempt to force the ambassador to step down from his post”.
“If the ambassador did not step down, then the arms dealer proposed that the attackers hired by Htut would kill the ambassador,” prosecutors said.
According to US authorities, after agreeing on the plan, Ye Hein Zaw transferred $4,000 to Phyo Hein Htut as “advance payment on the plot to attack the ambassador”.
In a later phone conversation, which US officials said was recorded, the two men allegedly discussed how the attackers needed an additional $1,000 to “finish off” the ambassador. Prosecutors allege they agreed to pay the additional money.
Kyaw Moe Tun thanked the US government, the US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield and her team, and security agencies “for your relentless efforts, assistance and support extended to me”.
A Thai government spokesman declined to comment on Saturday on the alleged involvement of a Thailand-based arms dealer in the plot, saying he was waiting for information.
International deliberations over whether Kyaw Moe Tun or an appointee of the junta is recognised as Myanmar’s UN ambassador are set to unfold when the General Assembly meets in September, and chooses a credentials committee that will be empowered to make the decision.
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