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Two Myanmar nationals arrested by US authorities over assassination plot

The pair has been accused of planning an attack on Myanmar's ambassador to the UN, who is a prominent critic of the country's ruling military junta.

Myanmar UN Envoy Kyaw Moe Tun

Myanmar UN Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun has been pressured by the military to step down

Two Myanmar nationals have been arrested by US authorities in connection with a plot to injure or assassinate Myanmar's ambassador to the UN, the US Department of Justice announced Friday. 

Myanmar's UN envoy, Kyaw Moe Tun, is a prominent critic of the country's ruling military junta.

What did the US say about the arrests?

US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Audrey Strauss said the two suspects, Phyo Hein Htut and Ye Hein Zaw, "plotted to seriously injure or kill Myanmar's ambassador to the United Nations in a planned attack on a foreign official that was to take place on American soil.

"We commend the tireless work of our law enforcement partners at all levels of government to ensure the safety of foreign diplomats and officials," she added. 

An arms dealer based in Thailand who does business with Myanmar's military reportedly hired the duo to carry out the attack on the ambassador in an attempt to force the envoy to step down. If Tun would not resign, the pair were ordered to kill him.

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What were the criminal charges?

Htut, who is 28-years-old, along with 20-year-old Zaw, have been charged with conspiracy to assault a foreign official, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

"Our laws apply to everyone in our country, and these men will now face the consequences of allegedly breaking those laws," FBI Acting Assistant Director Jacqueline Maguire said. 

Myanmar's military had previously tried to remove Tun from his position in February after he called on the international community "to use any means necessary" towards the junta.

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, along with other members of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, were deposed by the army that month, with General Min Aung Hlaing becoming the country's de facto leader. 

The move to dismiss Tun has been resisted by the 193-member UN General Assembly, which is responsible for accrediting foreign diplomats.

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Myanmar in crisis

Since the coup in February, Myanmar has been plunged into political, economic and health crises. 

The coup has triggered massive street protests and calls to restore the country's previous civilian leadership. In response, the military has violently cracked down on the demonstrators, killing hundreds and arresting thousands of people.

Massive strikes by workers involved in the anti-coup movements, along with disruptions of internet and transportation services, have crippled Myanmar's economy in recent months. International boycotts of goods from Myanmar, along with sanctions, have also done economic damage.

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Myanmar military junta targets healthcare workers

The coronavirus pandemic has taken its toll on Myanmar, with cases rapidly spreading across the country. The junta has targeted health care workers, further exacerbating the crisis. 

Fighting between the junta and various militias has also impeded the flow of humanitarian supplies into parts of the country.

The UN World Food Programme on Friday warned of a severe hunger crisis in Myanmar and said those fleeing military violence are in desperate need of assistance. 

wd/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP)