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'My purpose is to fight back': Myanmar's UN ambassador on defying the coup in his country

   March 10, 2021 11:34 PM
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by Caitlin Hu

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Myanmar UN General Assembly
(CNN)As a university student years ago, Kyaw Moe Tun sat out Myanmar's watershed 1988 pro-democracy protests. "I always listened to my parents, and they wanted me to stay home," he says. Now, as Myanmar's ambassador to the United Nations, he tells Meanwhile that his duty is to protest -- on behalf of the people of Myanmar and the democratic government they elected last year.

A few weeks after a military coup seized control in Myanmar, Kyaw Moe Tun gave an extraordinary statement of defiance on the other side of the world, flashing protesters' three-fingered salute before the UN General Assembly in New York and calling on members to "use any means necessary" to restore democracy in his country. The military regime responded by firing him, but he refuses to leave his post at the UN. Kyaw Moe Tun is effectively flying solo now, he says, unable to contact the civilian government's detained leaders but determined to keep the spotlight on Myanmar as pro-democracy protesters face bloody crackdowns back home. His elderly parents, still living in Myanmar, have also been unreachable since his February 26 speech -- but he says he knows through other channels that they're cheering for him. His interview with Meanwhile on Monday has been edited for length and clarity. What's it like to be posted here in New York with a government overthrow at home? In Myanmar, we have three "pillars" against the military coup and against the military regime: First, the protesters, who are on the streets and risk their lives to go against the security forces. At the same time, we have another pillar, that is the CDM: the civil disobedience movement. And at the same time, the CRPH (a parliamentary committee in exile) is also working. So my part here is however I can help those three pillars to get stronger and stronger. That is how you might look at (my speech) on February 26. I knew that there would not be any document to come out from the meeting because it was an informal meeting. But I really wanted to have a maximum positive impact from the meeting on the people of Myanmar. That is why I made the speech. Was it a difficult decision? It's a very rare decision for a career diplomat. Of course, the decision that I made is a very difficult decision, but at the same time, the people of Myanmar want a democracy. ... Since February 1, it's been quite difficult for me sitting here. When the military coup came in and they had the military council, of course their instructions were coming here and there, and they were asking us to do this and that. To be very frank, we drafted a statement and then we submitted it to the headquarters, and they provided an edited version. But I wanted to contribute to the people of Myanmar, so the statement I gave had to reflect the real situation on the ground. I didn't want to deliver a statement that was far from reality.

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