A senior Burmese diplomat is seeking political asylum in the United States, saying that if he returns he might be killed because of an ongoing purge of associates of the ousted prime minister, Khin Nyunt.
"I love my country," Aung Lynn Htut, the deputy chief of mission, wrote March 27 to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But he said that if he returns home, he "will certainly be arrested, possibly tortured and possibly even killed."
The request poses a dilemma for the Bush administration. Aung Lynn Htut might be a valuable source of intelligence on the Burmese government, which Rice has labeled one of six "outposts of tyranny."
But the retired army major was complicit in assisting the brutal military-led government, while many Burmese refugees who have fled the country because of their human rights activities have been unable to leave camps on the border with Burma and win entry into the United States.
Burma, also known as Myanmar, has faced a total ban on exports in the United States since 2003 after authorities placed under house arrest Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who was prevented by the Burmese military from taking office after her party overwhelmingly won elections 15 years ago. She has been in detention for nine of the past 15 years, and her most recent confinement began after a bloody crackdown by government-sponsored gangs on her and her supporters in May 2003.
In October, Gen. Khin Nyunt was removed from his post after a power struggle with more hard-line officials in the military junta. Suu Kyi's house arrest was extended another year in November.
State Department and Homeland Security Department officials said they could not discuss pending asylum requests as a matter of law. Aung Lynn Htut requested asylum for himself, his wife, a son, two daughters and a sister.
Aung Lynn Htut, who was Burma's second-ranking diplomat in the United States, did not respond to messages left at his home in Glen Echo or sent to his e-mail address. His wife, Tin Lay Nwe, said in a brief phone conversation that they had not received a response to their request. "The only way I can live is to get asylum," she said. "We can't go back to our country."
Burma's state-run media reported Aung Lynn Htut's attempt to defect over the weekend, calling it "an act of betrayal to the state."
Aung Din, policy director and co-founder of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, said Aung Lynn Htut was a close subordinate of Khin Nyunt in the directorate of intelligence, which was involved in the arrest and torture of political dissidents. His main responsibility at the embassy here was to monitor the activities of Burmese exiles in the United States, Aung Din said.
Aung Din said Aung Lynn Htut's wife is a sister of Win Win Nu, a prominent businesswoman who fled Burma after a conflict with the government over her managing of a holding company that included Mandalay Brewing Co. Win Win Nu continued to run a number of businesses in Burma under her sister's name, however, through the protection of Khin Nyunt. But that protection was withdrawn after Khin Nyunt's ouster. A Burmese court recently accused Aung Lynn Htut's wife of misconduct, and she faces imprisonment if she returns.
The court order was issued just a few days before Aung Lynn Htut was ordered to return to Burma, Aung Din said.
Aung Din, who served four years in Burmese prisons because of his efforts to promote democracy, said the questionnaire for seeking political asylum in the United States asks whether the asylum-seeker has ever been in a position to harm or cause the suffering of another person.
Given Aung Lynn Htut's history, he said, "on this question, I don't know how he will answer."