US prosecutors say they have charged two Myanmar citizens over a plot to attack the country’s United Nations ambassador, Kyaw Moe Tun, an outspoken supporter of the democracy movement who has refused orders by the military government to quit.
In an alleged conspiracy foiled by US investigators, the pair spoke of hiring assailants to force Kyaw Moe Tun to resign or, if he refused, to kill him, officials said on Friday.
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The pair “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, the US attorney for the southern district of New York.
Jacqueline Maguire, the acting assistant director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, said law enforcement acted “quickly and diligently” after learning last month of the potential assassination that was planned in Westchester County, a suburban area north of New York City.
“Our laws apply to everyone in our country, and these men will now face the consequences of allegedly breaking those laws,” she said.
Suspects Phyo Hein Htut, 28, and Ye Hein Zaw, 20, were being charged in a federal court in Westchester on counts for which they could be sentenced to up to five years in prison.
According to the legal complaint, Phyo Hein Htut told FBI investigators that the arms dealer in Thailand had contacted him online and offered him money to hire attackers to hurt the ambassador and force him to step down.
If the ambassador did not step down, then the arms dealer proposed that the attackers would kill him, according to the complaint. Phyo Hein Htut and the arms dealer then agreed on a plan to tamper with the ambassador’s car to cause a crash.
Ye Hein Zaw contacted Phyo Hein Htut and made two money transfers totaling $4,000 in late July, according to the complaint. Phyo Hein Htut told the FBI he was supposed to receive an additional $1,000 after the attack was completed.
A volunteer security guard at Myanmar’s UN mission told the FBI on Tuesday that Phyo Hein Htut had told him about the plan “to hire a hitman to kill or injure the ambassador.”
Sincere appreciations to the host country US Government, Ambassador Linda and her team USUN, all security agencies for your relentless efforts, assistance and support extended to me. Thanks
Two Myanmar men arrested in U.S. for plotting to kill U.N. envoy https://t.co/dCO73kwaxu
— Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun (@KyawTun62907405) August 6, 2021
The complaint said Ye Hein Zaw admitted he transferred the money to Phyo Hein Htut, that he regularly sends money to others on behalf of the arms dealer and recently booked travel to the United States for two other people at the arms dealer’s request.
“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 said in a statement.
In a statement posted on social media on Saturday morning, Tom Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said he was “horrified” to learn about the plot.
“Who was behind this outrage and who will hold them accountable?”
Since the February 1 coup, more than 900 people have died in Myanmar as the military seeks to crush pro-democracy protests, according to a local monitoring group.