A UK-based NGO and lawyers representing the former Myanmar ambassador to the UK want to use the board’s efforts to evict him from his London residence as a test case to establish the illegitimacy of the board in the English courts.
Kyaw Zwar Minn became an international cause last month when he was excluded from his embassy by his deputy, Chit Win, after breaking ranks with the army and calling for the release of Myanmar’s deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The embassy is now headed by Chit Win in the role of charge d’affaires, as the UK will not recognize him as an ambassador. Chit Win is trying to force Kyaw Zwar Minn to leave the ambassador’s official residence in Hampstead, north London.
Kyaw Zwar Minn is supported by the Myanmar Accountability Project and the British law firm Peters & Peters, who plan to challenge the eviction attempt and persuade an English court to rule that the junta that took power in February is illegitimate and not it has standing.
Since his coup, the army has cracked down on pro-democracy protests and has been accused of hundreds of extrajudicial executions, as well as torture and illegal detentions.
Peters & Peters has sent a legal letter to Chit Win warning him that any attempt to evict Kyaw Zwar Minn would be illegal and that “any attempt to secure access to any part of the property will be reported immediately to the police.”
The letter continues: “You intend to represent the Union of Myanmar and write on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However, our client does not and will not recognize those responsible for the internationally condemned Myanmar military coup as representatives of the legitimate government of Myanmar.
“Consequently, you have no authority to ask His Excellency Kyaw Z Minn to leave the ambassador’s residence or to return the property referred to in his letter, which belongs to the Republic of Myanmar.
“His Excellency, therefore, will not abandon the ambassador’s residence … and will resist any possession or other legal proceedings to try to secure the property or access to it in any way.”
Kyaw Zwar Minn said in an interview with The Guardian that the UK Foreign Office had warned him that the police could do nothing if embassy staff “invaded our residence”. Kyaw Zwar Minn said he was still waiting for British officials to establish what support they would give him to stay in London.
While diplomatic representation and property used by diplomatic missions are generally under the auspices of the Vienna convention, the Myanmar Accountability Project wants to use the case of official residence to persuade a court to rule that the coup was illegal.
The Foreign Ministry was waiting for a negotiated solution to the confrontation between the embassy and Kyaw Zwar Minn. The decision to involve the courts will keep the issue in the limelight.
Chris Gunness, Director of the Myanmar Accountability Project, a London-based NGO promoting justice and accountability in Myanmar, said: “The junta has used naked military force to subvert democracy, but MAP will use all legal means. to expose the illegality of the coup and fight for the restoration of democratic government and human rights in Myanmar.
“Eight hundred people have been killed in the last three months, thousands arrested and tortured by the same military regime that is now attempting an illegal eviction from property in London.
“This is a case that will have consequences for Myanmar embassies around the world. Many governments, including the UK, have condemned the coup and imposed sanctions against the generals and the companies they run. It is deeply offensive to those who risk their lives in the streets to oppose the military government to suggest that the junta represents Myanmar and its people. “