Possible showdown over Myanmar ambassador looms at UN

The junta had dismissed Kyaw Moe Tun on Saturday.
The junta had dismissed Kyaw Moe Tun on Saturday.PHOTO: NYTIMES/UNITED NATIONS

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - A conflict over who represents Myanmar at the United Nations intensified on Tuesday (March 2), with the possibility that the country's ambassador would be clashing with a deputy assigned by the military junta to replace him.

In what amounted to high drama at the United Nations, officials were unable to rule out the prospect that the ambassador, U Kyaw Moe Tun - who is now an anti-junta celebrity - would be struggling to occupy the same seat as U Tin Maung Naing, the deputy, who, according to the junta, is now Myanmar's voice at the global body.

"I mean, let's be honest here. We're in a very unique situation we have not seen in a long time," Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesperson for Secretary-General António Guterres, told reporters. "We are trying to sort through all the legal protocol and other implications."

The diplomatic tensions unfolding at the United Nations headquarters in New York came as the junta's forces have turned increasingly violent in the month-old military takeover, ordering deadly crackdowns on protesters.

The junta dismissed Kyaw Moe Tun on Saturday, one day after he embarrassed the generals during an emotional General Assembly speech in which he denounced them for their Feb 1 coup and imprisonment of civilian leaders, urged other countries to help and raised the three-finger salute, a symbol of anti-junta resistance borrowed from "The Hunger Games" films.

Ambassadors of many countries, including the United States, have rallied to his defense. The new US ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told reporters on Monday that she had been "extraordinarily moved" by the Myanmar ambassador's General Assembly speech.

"I think it caught all of us off guard," she said. "None of us expected to hear that. And I commend him for his bravery. I commend him for his compassion. And I send words of support to him and as well as the people of Myanmar."

On Tuesday, Dujarric, the spokesperson, confirmed a Reuters report that Kyaw Moe Tun had sent a letter to the president of the General Assembly and to Guterres "informing them that he remains Myanmar's permanent representative to the United Nations."

But Dujarric also said it had received a "note verbale", or unsigned diplomatic note, from Myanmar's Foreign Ministry, saying the country had "terminated the duties and responsibilities of Mr Kyaw Moe Tun as permanent representative of Myanmar," and had assigned Tin Maung Naing, the deputy permanent representative, as the chargé d'affaires.

Dujarric acknowledged that both diplomats "can come into the building" and that who is recognised as Myanmar's representative "will be an issue up for member states".

Questions and disputes over who represents a country at the United Nations fall to the credentials committee, a nine-member body of the General Assembly that is presently led by Kennedy Godfrey Gastorn, the ambassador from Tanzania. He did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

Telephone and e-mail messages left for Kyaw Moe Tun and Tin Maung Naing were not immediately returned.

Pressure has been growing for the UN Security Council to take action over the Myanmar coup and the repression of protesters. Thomas-Greenfield, who is president of the council for March, told reporters on Monday that she was planning discussions on Myanmar "sooner rather than later".

LISTEN TO ASIAN INSIDER PODCAST