RANGOON—Burma’s former spy chief and retired general Khin Nyunt, who was once nicknamed “TV actor” by the Burmese public for his almost daily appearances on state television, recently made a return to the small screen, appearing alongside Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann.
On Monday, Burma’s state-run 24-hour channel MRTV 4 broadcast footage of Khin Nyunt visiting Kyaik Danote Pagoda in Rangoon’s Dala Township. He was shown making a devotional offering of a gold-coated hti, or sacred parasol, while in the company of Shwe Mann, Rangoon Division Chief Minister Myint Swe and business tycoon Khin Shwe.
The video footage showed Khin Nyunt carrying the hti before it was installed on top of the pagoda by monks. Shwe Mann, of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, was seen treating the retired general with respect.
Photos of the ceremony quickly spread on Facebook and other social media, and attracted various comments, with some dubbing the event Khin Nyunt’s “reintegration” with Burma’s current political leadership.
It remains unclear why Khin Nyunt appeared at the Kyaik Danote Pagoda.
The ancient, 107-ft structure was restored with support of then junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe after it partially collapsed in 2006. It fell down again in 2009 and debris reportedly killed and injured dozens of soldiers and civilians, but state media never published news of the incident.
Monday’s broadcast was the first time in a decade that the retired general was shown on TV, after he was ousted by Snr-Gen Than Shwe in 2004 and sentenced to 44 years in prison for corruption and other charges.
Between 1998 and 2004, Khin Nyunt spent years in the limelight when he held different top positions in the then ruling military regime, such as secretary 1 of the State Peace and Development Council, prime minister and chief of Military Intelligence.
He was given amnesty by President Thein Sein in January 2012. Three months later, The Bangkok Post newspaper published a recording of a conversation with the former spy master.
In it he claims to have personally intervened to save the life of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi when a pro-junta mob attacked her motorcade in Sagaing Division in 2003, killing at least 70 of her supporters. “I sent my men to snatch her from the mob that night and they brought her to safety to a nearby army cantonment,” he was quoted as saying.
However, Khin Nyunt denied last year that he had made the claims. On Wednesday, two days after the retired general’s TV appearance, the Special Branch, a Burmese security unit, put out a statement that again rejected The Bangkok Post article.
There have been rumors that the former spy master has ambitions to re-enter Burma’s political arena, but during a brief encounter with The Irrawaddy’s publisher Aung Zaw in November he denied these claims.