By John Geddie
(Reuters) – British police are investigating Myanmar’s former ambassador to the United Kingdom for trespassing on a diplomatic residence in London that he has refused to leave since being ousted for opposing Myanmar’s 2021 military coup, his lawyer told Reuters.
Kyaw Zwar Minn was locked out of his embassy a few months after the February 2021 coup, and later replaced by the junta’s representatives, after calling for the release of Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Since his protest, praised by the British government at the time, Kyaw Zwar Minn has stayed at the northwest London ambassador’s residence, a mansion surrounded by razor wire and CCTV cameras. He has refused to hand it back to the embassy which he says is now run by representatives of an illegitimate government.
Britain last year urged Kyaw Zwar Minn to leave the residence, citing pressure from the junta, Reuters reported.
Earlier this week Kyaw Zwar Minn was interviewed by police over “an allegation that he trespassed on diplomatic premises,” said Neil Swift, his London-based lawyer at Peters & Peters. The offence carries a punishment of up to six months in prison or a fine or both.
“The ambassadorial residence remains the property of the Union of Myanmar, and my client has always maintained that he is more than happy to hand over the keys to a representative of the democratically elected government of Myanmar, should they ask him to do so,” Swift told Reuters.
Myanmar’s embassy in London, Britain’s Foreign Office and London’s Metropolitan Police did not respond to requests for comment.
Kyaw Zwar Minn was interviewed by police on Aug. 15 but charges have not yet been brought, according to Swift. Britain’s attorney general will have to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to charge him, he said.
If charges are brought, the case risks becoming politically heated given Britain’s previous support of Kyaw Zwar Minn and the sanctions it has heaped on the junta since the coup and a bloody crackdown on opponents that has triggered a resistance movement fighting the military on multiple fronts.
Chris Gunness of rights group Myanmar Accountability Project said it was “inconceivable that the British authorities, who have condemned the coup and imposed economic sanctions on the generals, would permit this move by an illegal junta.”
Britain is among several Western countries that have called for democracy to be restored in Myanmar and sanctioned members of Myanmar’s military and some of its business interests.
Deposed Myanmar politicians who escaped arrest after the coup, and other pro-democracy allies, formed the National Unity Government (NUG), a parallel administration aligned with Suu Kyi.
Most democratic nations, including Britain, have not formally recognised either the NUG or the junta.
But in July 2021, Myanmar’s junta appointed a new temporary head of its London embassy, a move which did not require the consent of the British government under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
(Reporting by John Geddie; Additional reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Conor Humphries)
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