A top election official for Myanmar’s military junta has been assassinated by bicycle-riding gunmen from a rebel group, which accused him of being complicit in “oppressing and terrorizing” the public. It is the latest in a series of high-profile killings targeting a military that has escalated attacks on civilians.
The official, Sai Kyaw Thu, a retired lieutenant colonel who served as deputy director general of the Union Election Commission, was fatally shot Saturday afternoon after driving his wife, a doctor, to her job at a hospital in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.
A resistance group calling itself “For the Yangon” claimed responsibility for the killing. A spokesman for the group, who gave his name only as Sky for fear of retaliation, said Mr. Sai Kyaw Thu was targeted in part because he testified last year against the country’s ousted civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and the ousted president, U Win Myint, at their trial for election fraud. Both were convicted and sentenced to the maximum three years in prison on that charge.
A security camera outside a Yangon pharmacy captured the attack as two men rode up on one bicycle, jumped off in the middle of the street and began firing their handguns at a black sport utility vehicle. The car ran over the bicycle and continued down the road and out of camera range.
The two gunmen, who both wore hats and face masks, then returned to the bike. One man picked it up, but it was apparently damaged; putting their guns back into shoulder bags, they fled on foot.
The video of the shooting, as well as a photo of the vehicle after it had crashed into a power pole, were posted on a pro-military Telegram channel called Myanmagone, which also provided details of the killing. Mr. Sky, the rebel spokesman, told The New York Times that the video and photo depicted the assassination and its aftermath.
The military junta, which seized power in a coup more than two years ago, is facing growing armed resistance in many parts of the country from pro-democracy forces and ethnic rebel groups that have long fought for autonomy.
Even in urban areas where the military has established control, resistance fighters have carried out several high-profile assassinations, including that of a retired brigadier general outside his Yangon home in September.
The military has responded in recent months with an increasing number of atrocities, including the beheading, disembowelment or dismemberment of rebel fighters, as well as attacks on civilians.
In March, soldiers massacred 22 civilians, including three monks, at a monastery in Shan State. And in April, a military jet bombed a gathering in Sagaing Region, killing at least 170, including 38 children. It was the single deadliest attack on civilians since the coup on Feb. 1, 2021.
In an attempt to legitimize its authority, the junta established the military-led State Administration Council to run the country and announced that it would hold elections this year. No date has been set.
“Sai Kyaw Thu is not only a retired military officer, but he is currently a key player in the military council’s illegal election,” said Mr. Sky, the rebel spokesman. “Together with the terrorist military council, he was involved in oppressing and terrorizing the people.”
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, which won landslide victories in the three elections it was allowed to take part in, was dissolved in March by the election commission after the party announced it would not participate in a sham vote and did not register.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, 77, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, was arrested on the morning of the coup and has been sentenced to a total of 33 years in prison on a wide range of charges, including corruption, inciting public unrest and election fraud. Mr. Win Myint, 71, is serving 12 years on similar charges.
Both leaders have denied the charges. Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s defenders have said that the charges against her were manufactured to prevent her from holding public office again. At the time of the 2020 vote, independent election observers said they did not see evidence of fraud.
It is unclear what Mr. Sai Kyaw Thu testified at the election fraud trial, since the proceedings were held behind prison walls and closed to the public.
A colleague at the election commission who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation said in an interview that he was not surprised Mr. Sai Kyaw Thu had been targeted, given his willingness to testify against the country’s civilian leaders. Because Mr. Sai Kyaw Thu had worked at the election commission since before the coup, the colleague said, he was in a position to testify about the handling of the 2020 elections.
The Myanmagone channel said that Mr. Sai Kyaw Thu was shot five times, including in the neck, and the rebel spokesman, Mr. Sky, said that he was alone in the car when he was killed.
The junta’s spokesman, Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, did not respond to calls from The Times seeking comment.
Mr. Sky warned that resistance forces planned to target other top officials associated with the junta.
“We have already received a variety of information about people in senior positions in the military council,” he said. “We plan to take care of them as soon as possible. We will not be complacent toward anyone who is oppressing the public, including high-ranking officers.”