By Francis Wade
South Africa’s official opposition has called on the country’s president to investigate the shady past of Burmese ambassador Myint Naung, following accusations in media that the former army general was complicit in gross human rights abuses in his home country.
The Democratic Alliance party has argued for a revocation of the diplomat’s accreditation following an investigation by the Johannesburg-based Mail & Guardian Online that uncovered evidence that Myint Naung may have played a key role in a number military offensives in Karen state, which have historically carried huge costs for civilians.
Research carried out by the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) suggests that Brigadier General Myint Naung was heading the Military Operation Command (MOC) #4 during a protracted December 2007 offensive in Karen state, where his troops were responsible for multiple attacks on displaced villagers and settlements. The same group has documented at least one extra-judicial killing of a civilian by a solider under MOC#4 command during Myint Naung’s likely tenure as commander.
He is also believed to have been among a party of three commanders that ordered the attack on the Ngwekyaryan monastery in Rangoon on 27 September 2007, in which dozens of monks were beaten by troops before being loaded onto trucks and driven away.
The specifics of his record in the army are hard to come by: very few documents on Burma’s high-ranking military and government officials are ever made public, but prior to his appointment as ambassador to South Africa in March this year, Burmese state media had referred to him as a brigadier general.
Between 2008 and 2010 he also served as principal of the Army Combat Forces School at Fort Bayinnaung in Karen state, where troops are trained in counter-insurgency techniques for use against Burma’s multiple ethnic armed forces.
The Democratic Alliance’s shadow minister for international relations, Kenneth Mubu, told the newspaper that President Jacob Zuma should order Myint Naung to be removed from his post.
“In terms of the Vienna Convention, the president has the power to refuse access to members of diplomatic missions should their credentials not stand up to scrutiny. Accordingly, he should now use his powers and revoke Naung’s diplomatic accreditation.”
Given the presence of hundreds of former junta members in Burma’s new government, the revelations may prompt other countries to closely scrutinise the background of Burmese diplomats.
Consternation still surrounds the appointment of Ye Myint Aung asBurma’s ambassador to the UN: during his tenure as Consul-General to Hong Kong, he wrote in a letter to other heads of mission, and copying in international newspapers, that Burma’s ethnic Rohingya were “ugly as ogres”.
“You will see in the photos that their complexion is ‘dark brown’. The complexion of Myanmar people is fair and soft, good looking as well,” he wrote, sparking widespread uproar.
South Africa has had mixed relations with the Burmese government in recent years. During its stint as a temporary UN Security Council member in 2007, it refused to sanction a resolution condemning rights abuses by the junta, which, ironically, coincided with the Ngwekyaryan monastery attack.
But ministers in the ruling African National Congress have criticised Burma’s 2008 constitution, which came into force this year but which some compared with South Africa’s 1983 constitution, which looked to legitimise apartheid rule through only token participation of ethnic groups.