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Myanmar's UN ambassador calls for Japan to cut ties with military over coup: interview

Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar's ambassador to the United Nations, speaks to the Mainichi Shimbun remotely on March 22, 2021 in New York. (Mainichi)

NEW YORK (Mainichi) -- Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar's ambassador to the United Nations who openly criticized the coup by his country's military junta in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, spoke with the Mainichi Shimbun for an exclusive interview on March 22.

    During the discussion, he said he felt sanctions would be effective at ending the coup, and called for Japan's government to introduce economic measures against businesses and other initiatives with connections to the military. He stressed that any business or financial ties with the military regime should be cut "right away."

    Ambassador Tun gained attention after a Feb. 26 speech at the General Assembly, in which he criticized the Myanmar military and raised a three-fingered salute -- an anti-dictatorship symbol in the country. Since the coup began on Feb. 1, he said that he had been asking himself what he could do in his capacity as U.N. ambassador and concluded that he "wanted to use this opportunity to have maximum positive impact, especially on our young generation." He said young people are risking their lives on the streets and in protesting to demand the end of the military coup.

    Although he worried about his parents still living in the country, he said they had told him they were proud after his speech.

    Following his remarks, the military announced that Tun had betrayed his country and would be relieved of his position. It attempted to replace him with the country's deputy U.N. ambassador, Tin Maung Naing, but he refused and resigned. Now, Tun remains as Myanmar's U.N. envoy, and the military has charged him with treason. He said that after his dismissal, the military regime issued instructions to all Myanmar embassies telling them "no one can engage" with him.

    Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar's ambassador to the United Nations, is seen giving a three-fingered salute in support of democracy in Myanmar, at the U.N. General Assembly on Feb. 26, 2021, in this still image taken from a video provided by the U.N.

    Regarding the military charges, he said, "I thank them." He explained, "Now what happened in Myanmar is the fascist military versus the innocent civilian." By charging him with high treason, he says, it means "that I am not with them, I am with the innocent people. I'm proud of myself."

    On March 10, the president of the U.N. Security Council issued a statement condemning violence against protests in Myanmar, but it did not mention potential sanctions. Individual countries including the U.S. and U.K. have levied sanctions, and while Tun hailed their efforts, he called on the Security Council to enforce them too, saying, "But if we can get the coordinated, targeted tougher sanctions imposed on the military leaders and their institution, their companies and their family members, businesses, it will be useful and helpful for our efforts to end the military coup."

    He also said regarding arms embargo and other similar initiatives against the military, "We keep asking the international community to take whatever possible measures to protect the innocent civilians. Time is of the essence for the people of Myanmar."

    China, which holds power of veto on the Security Council, has connections with the Myanmar military, and is passive about introducing sanctions or other measures. Ambassador Tun stressed that China had also built a good relationship with the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

    Tun said the perception of the people of Myanmar towards China "is not favorable," because of the perception people may have of China supporting the military. He added that it is the "right time for our neighbor, China, to take this opportunity to show that they are not with the military, they are with the people of Myanmar." He expressed hope that China will present a more active stance toward sanctions, and that in his view they constitute the best opportunity to correct perceptions of China.

    Ambassador Tun has been in his post since October 2020, and has experience studying at the International University of Japan in Niigata Prefecture. He expressed gratitude to Japan, saying, "I would like to take this opportunity, on behalf of the people of Myanmar, to express our sincere appreciation to the people and government of Japan and the members of Parliament for their continued support."

    (Japanese original by Toshiyuki Sumi, New York Bureau)

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