YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Four men accused of involvement in the murder of a top legal adviser to Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi's ruling party appeared in a Yangon court on Friday to hear the charges against them.
The alleged hired gunman, Kyi Lin, and three accused plotters were read the murder charge against them for the Jan. 29 shooting of lawyer Ko Ni. A fifth suspect is on the run.
Ko Ni was noted for criticizing army interference in politics and advised Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy on ways to get around articles in the army-imposed constitution that give the military wide powers even after Myanmar's transition to democracy last year.
Three of the suspects are former army officers, fueling speculation the military was involved with the crime — an accusation it denies.
Ko Ni was also an advocate for the Muslim minority in the overwhelmingly Buddhist country, a position that earned him the enmity of ultra-nationalist Buddhist monks and their allies. Myanmar has been gripped by anti-Muslim sentiment in recent years after deadly communal violence in the western state of Rakhine, home to many Rohingya Muslims.
Police have said the motive for the killing was "extreme nationalism" and personal rancor against Ko Ni's politics.
It was the first public appearance of the suspects since their arrests. Kyi Lin is accused of shooting Ko Ni at a taxi stand at Yangon's airport and then fatally shooting a taxi driver who chased him before he was captured. He and one of the other suspects are also charged with possession of unregistered firearms.
"Losing Ko Ni is a big loss for the country and for our party, with which he stood together for many years, and it was an honor to have him in our party," Suu Kyi said in a speech a month after Ko Ni's death.
Military or military-dominated governments ruled Myanmar from 1962 until Suu Kyi's party took power in 2016 after an overwhelming election victory. But the constitution passed during army rule ensures that the military retains great power in government, including a virtual veto over constitutional change.