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Myanmar’s UN ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun on his speech of defiance

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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.

Your speech asked the world to take “any means necessary” to end the coup. What does that mean? Military intervention?

Yeah, of course, it could be. But it is very difficult to get a military intervention, because the decision of a country who sends military personnel into another country is not that easy — it is very difficult. I know that, but the request being made from our people in Myanmar is very clear: We need the protection from the international community, in whatever way that they can help us. We don’t want further loss of life for our brothers and sisters in Myanmar; we really want action, very strong action that can stop the brutal acts of the military.

What role is China playing here?

They have said to focus more on dialogue. But how can we have that dialogue while our leaders are in detention? Whenever we have the dialogue, there should be a level playing field.

What are you asking for now from the United States and international community?

I appeal to the international community to help us in whatever way they can. Many of us inside the country, especially those young, young people who are on the streets, they are helpless. And not only them, but all of us — all people of Myanmar — also feel helpless.

My purpose here is to fight back the military regime for as long as I can, and until the end of the military coup. … Our democracy was just a nascent democracy and then the military came in to set it back 40 or 50 years. Democracy should prevail. Democracy must prevail.

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