UNITED NATIONS — Myanmar’s UN ambassador, who strongly opposed the military coup in his country, insists he remains the permanent representative to the United Nations, but the foreign ministry has informed the UN that the ambassador has been terminated and his deputy is now in charge.
The dispute over who is recognized as Myanmar’s ambassador — the representative of the generals who carried out the Feb. 1 coup or of the ousted democratically elected government — is under discussion and could end up in the General Assembly, where all 193 UN members have seats.
In Myanmar, meanwhile, authorities have escalated their crackdown on anticoup protesters in recent days. The UN said it believed at least 18 people were killed on Sunday when security forces fired into crowds, while a rights group said more than 1,000 people were detained over the weekend, including an Associated Press journalist. A lawyer for the journalist said he has been charged with an offense that could see him imprisoned for up to three years.
On Tuesday, police repeatedly used tear gas and rubber bullets against crowds of protesters, but the demonstrators regrouped after each volley and tried to defend themselves with barricades as the standoffs intensified.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric confirmed Tuesday that the UN received two “contradictory” letters and is reviewing them to see who is the UN ambassador and whether the assembly’s Credentials Committee will get involved.
“We are in a very unique situation we have not seen in a long time,” Dujarric said. “We are trying to sort through all the legal, protocol, and other implications” and are “trying to resolve things as quickly as possible from our end.”
The first letter from Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, sent Monday to General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir with a copy to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, states that he was appointed by President Win Myint “who was then and remains the lawfully elected president of Myanmar” and by Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi on Sept. 4, 2020.
“The perpetrators of the unlawful coup against the democratic government of Myanmar have no authority to countermand the legitimate authority of the president of my country,” Tun said in the letter obtained by the Associated Press. “I wish therefore to confirm to you that I remain Myanmar’s permanent representative to the United Nations.”
The second letter to the secretary general from Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which Dujarric said was received Tuesday, makes no mention of the coup.
Dated Feb. 28, the letter, obtained by AP, informs Guterres that the State Administration Council “terminated the duties and responsibilities” of Tun on Feb. 27 and will no longer recognize his accreditation to the UN General Assembly.
The ministry said Myanmar’s deputy UN ambassador, Tin Maung Naing, has been assigned as the charge d’affaires of the UN mission.
In his dramatic speech to a General Assembly meeting on Myanmar on Friday, Tun appealed for “the strongest possible action from the international community” to restore democracy to the country.
He urged all countries to strongly condemn the coup, to refuse to recognize the military regime, and to ask the military leaders to respect the November elections won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.
“It is time for the military to immediately relinquish power and release those detained,” including Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, he said. “We will continue to fight for a government which is, of the people, by the people, for the people.”
His speech drew loud applause from diplomats in the assembly chamber who called it “powerful,” “brave,” and “courageous.”
The new US ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, reiterated Monday that she was “extraordinarily moved” by Tun’s statement, and commended him for his “bravery” and “compassion.”
She said Americans “stand strongly” with the ambassador and the people of Myanmar.
“The U.S. “is committed to using our renewed engagement here in New York . . . [and] internationally to press the military to reverse its actions and restore a democratically elected government,” Thomas-Greenfield said.
The General Assembly meeting was called to hear a briefing from the UN special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, who said it is time to “sound the alarm” about the coup.
“It is important the international community does not lend legitimacy or recognition to this regime,” she told diplomats.