WASHINGTON -- A senior Myanmar diplomat in Washington has defected to the U.S., warning that oppression is rising in his homeland despite elections touted by the dominant military as a transition to democracy.
Kyaw Win, the deputy chief of mission, appealed for political asylum in the United States in a letter dated Monday and addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. In the letter he says his conscience prevents him from continuing to work for the government. He also calls for the U.S. to implement targeted sanctions against the government and its "cronies."
The Associated Press obtained the letter, and Kyaw Win confirmed in a phone conversation Tuesday with AP he had sent it but declined further comment.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed Tuesday receipt of the letter but declined to comment further, saying it was private diplomatic correspondence.
The defection is a setback to the efforts of Myanmar, also known as Burma, to convince the international community that flawed elections it held last November herald an end to five decades of military rule and merit the easing of economic sanctions by Western nations. In the strongly worded letter, Kyaw Win says the military continues to hold uncontested power.
"The truth is that senior military officials are consolidating their grip on power and seeking to stamp out the voices of those seeking democracy, human rights and individual liberties. Oppression is rising and war against our ethnic cousins is imminent and at present, threats are being made against Aung San Suu Kyi -- they must be taken seriously," he wrote.
Nobel laureate Suu Kyi leads a pro-democracy party that won 1990 elections but was barred by the military from taking power. She was released from years of house arrest after the latest elections, but has been warned to stay out of politics. State-run press warned last week that her plans to travel upcountry could spark riots and chaos.
Suu Kyi drew large crowds when she last traveled in the countryside in 2003, and her popularity rattled the ruling junta. Supporters of the junta ambushed her entourage, killing several of her followers.
Kyaw Win wrote that he has served in Myanmar's Foreign Ministry for 31 years, including more than three years in Washington. He says he fears returning to the country because his efforts to improve bilateral relations with the U.S. have been continually rejected and "resulted in my being deemed dangerous by the government."
Shifting from the previous U.S. policy of diplomatic isolation of Myanmar, the Obama administration has attempted to engage its government but made little discernible progress.
Kyaw Win urged the U.S. to help set up an international council of inquiry to investigate human rights violations in conflict zones of Myanmar, where long-simmering conflicts between government forces and ethnic armies have flared up in recent months.
He also calls for the U.S. to implement "highly targeted financial sanctions against the government and their cronies that serve to keep them in power."
Kyaw Win is the second senior diplomat from Myanmar's mission in Washington to seek political asylum in the U.S. in recent years, following the defection of deputy chief of mission Aung Lynn.