The fight for control of Myanmar has now officially arrived at the United Nations.
In a letter seen by CNN, Myanmar’s UN Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun has told the international body that he still represents Myanmar, after making an impassioned speech last week rejecting the country’s military takeover.
Meanwhile, a deputy ambassador to the UN from Myanmar will claim that he is now the man the military authorities want to represent the country.
Both sides have sent the UN letters to make their case on official letterhead.
Myanmar’s democratically elected government was overthrown last month in a military coup that saw civilian leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi detained. For weeks, thousands of people in the country have come out to protest against the coup, risking deadly violence and arrest by security forces.
“The perpetrators of the unlawful coup against the democratic government of Myanmar have no authority to countermand the legitimate authority of the President of my country,” Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun wrote in his letter to the UN.
But the Myanmar foreign ministry is backing a deputy ambassador to take control of the country’s UN representation, according to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
“It’s a unique situation we have not seen in a long time,” Dujarric told reporters on Tuesday of the dueling claims. He added that the UN is “trying to resolve things as quickly as possible.”
Myanmar’s military leaders first announced Kyaw Moe Tun’s removal over the weekend, after he called on UN members to use “any means necessary” to help restore the country’s civilian leadership.
“We need further strongest possible action from the international community to immediately end the military coup, to stop oppressing the innocent people, to return the state power to the people and to restore the democracy,” he told the UN on Friday.
Kyaw Moe Tun said he was delivering the speech on behalf of Suu Kyi’s government, and flashed the three fingered “Hunger Games” salute used by protestors on the streets of Myanmar, prompting a rare round of applause from his UN colleagues at the end.
The new US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, praised the envoy’s “courageous” remarks.
‘A unique situation’
Both men already have UN credentials to enter the building, raising an obvious practical question: Who is entitled to the seat in the General Assembly where Myanmar sits?
In past such diplomatic tussles, if the fight raged on, a committee of the UN would determine who get the proper “credentials” to represent their country.
Asked about the credentialing process during a press briefing yesterday, Dujarric said, “First of all, we need to be notified officially of a change in Government, in a change in the permanent representation… If there are questions about the credentials of someone sitting in a seat of a particular Member State, that is up to the Member States themselves to challenge and to discuss through the General Assembly’s Credentials Committee.”
However such a process could also widen the crisis and take time. The UN spokesman has said that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wants the Security Council to get Myanmar’s military rulers to return the country to democracy.
On Tuesday, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said that “when it comes to Kyaw Moe Tun, we understand the permanent representative remains in his position.”
“We will continue to opposed the military coup, and we will continue to support the restoration of Burma’s democratically elected civilian government going forward,” Price added.
The UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, on Friday urged the international community not to recognize Myanmar’s military junta, calling their power grab an “attempted coup.”
“I say ‘attempted,’ since the takeover has not stabilized, it would appear to be roundly rejected by the people. It is important the international community does not lend legitimacy or recognition to this regime,” she said.
The UK has proposed a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss Myanmar on Friday, a diplomat tells CNN. Such a session would likely begin behind closed doors.
The Council has expressed concern over developments such as the military takeover but has not condemned the military leaders.
Reporting contributed by Michael Conte and Jennifer Hansler.