Late last week, Reuters published an exclusive report revealing that the United Kingdom has urged Myanmar’s former ambassador, who has pledged his support to the government ousted in the February 2021 military coup, to leave his official London residence.
Last April, Kyaw Zwar Minn was locked out of the London embassy building by his deputy and the country’s military attache after pledging his support for the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) government and calling for the release of detained State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi. But he has continued to occupy the ambassador’s official residence in northwest London, and refused to hand it back to the embassy, which is occupied now by the military’s junta’s chosen envoy.
Reuters cited a series of correspondence between the U.K. government and Kyaw Zwar Minn. In the emails, U.K. officials urge Kyaw Zwar Minn to leave the house, saying his presence there has created legal problems for the British government and poses risks to its staff in Myanmar. One email from a senior U.K. Foreign Office official dated March 4 stated the government was under “considerable pressure from the military regime to resolve the issue of your continued presence in the Myanmar Residence.”
Kyaw Zwar Minn’s position is consistent with that of the opposition National Unity Government (NUG), which claims to represent Myanmar’s legitimate government and is therefore entitled to represent it in all international forums, from the genocide hearings at the International Court of Justice to the United Nations, where Myanmar’s ambassador, Kyaw Moe Tun, has also pledged his support to the ousted civilian government.
The previous October, in response to an email from the U.K. Foreign Office stating that it was no longer tenable for him to remain in the residence, Kyaw Zwar Minn replied that he would only hand over the property “to the legitimate, elected government of Myanmar.” In a February email, he repeated that he would only give up the property to the NUG, should that government be recognized by the U.K. government.
Kyaw Zwar Minn’s defiance has placed the U.K. government in a tricky position. Last April, when Kyaw Zwar Minn was locked out the Myanmar embassy, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned the “bullying actions of the Myanmar military regime” and called for a “swift restoration of democracy.”
But the U.K. also had no choice but to acquiesce to the decision by the military junta last July to dispatch to London a charge d’affaires ad interim to replace Kyaw Zwar Minn. According to the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, an ambassador’s job officially ends once the host country has been informed and the appointment of an interim charge d’affaires does not require the consent of the recipient state. As a result, the U.K. government stated that it “must accept the decision taken by the Myanmar regime.” The emails obtained by Reuters suggest that it also sees no alternative but to support the requests from the Myanmar embassy to ease out the current occupant of the ambassador’s residence.
The situation also points to the deeper dilemma facing Western governments that have opposed the coup. Unwilling to recognize either the junta (for political and moral reasons) or the NUG (for practical ones), most have been left in a position in which they have continue to maintain a diplomatic presence inside the country while avoiding any action that confers legitimacy on the coup government. More than a year after the coup, as the fierce struggle between the military administration and its opponents settles into a stalemate, the diplomatic dilemma shows few signs of resolving itself.