Criminals at Large

Burma, Myanmar, Khin Nyunt, MI, military intelligence, junta

Myanmar’s former spy chief Khin Nyunt is seen at the polls in Yangon in April 2012.(PHOTO: Reuters)

Who should I apologize to?” This was the question that U Khin Nyunt, Myanmar’s former spy chief, barked at a reporter who asked him if he was responsible for the treatment of thousands of dissidents by units of his Military Intelligence (MI) after the armed forces seized power in 1988. Rather than countenance any suggestion that he was guilty of crimes against Myanmar’s citizens, the ex-general insisted that the real criminals were those opposed to military rule. “They were guilty and that’s why they were punished according to the law at that time,” he said.

Who, then, should answer for all those thousands of political activists who spent years languishing behind bars? Who was responsible for their torture in interrogation centers and the deaths of so many who succumbed to mistreatment and neglect in Myanmar’s primitive prisons? Who was it that created and controlled a vast information-gathering apparatus that made every citizen feel like a prisoner?

Of course, the whole system that was in place during the long years of military rule was oppressive. But if we confine ourselves to answering just these few questions, the number of people who can be held culpable will be relatively small.

Dozens of MI units harassed, intimidated and detained opposition activists and others regarded with suspicion by the former junta. All of these units reported directly to the Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence (DDSI). And the head of this feared organization was Gen Khin Nyunt, who rapidly rose to prominence after the 1988 coup, becoming the third-most powerful member of the ruling military council.

From 1988 until his purge in 2004, Gen Khin Nyunt oversaw the arrest of around 10,000 people. Many were subjected to torture and farcical trials that resulted in decades-long prison sentences. Both military and civilian courts were forced to do the bidding of the DDSI.

MI units infiltrated almost every organization in the country and maintained networks of spies in almost every neighborhood. Their agents were placed in customs, immigration and police departments, and MI officers even monitored other senior military officials, including top generals.

Kyaw Zwa Moe is the editor of the English-language edition of The Irrawaddy. He can be reached at [email protected]

But the main targets of the police state within a state that Gen Khin Nyunt created were the country’s dissidents. “Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt was trying to destroy the [National League for Democracy] by having local authorities intimidate party members, harass their families, and incarcerate those who refused to resign. The intention was to isolate Aung San Suu Kyi and reduce her party’s legitimacy,” anthropologist Christina Fink wrote in her book “Living Silence,” published in 2001.

Now a civilian who regards himself as a victim of the former regime—he was sentenced to house arrest after his ouster in October 2004, and released in January 2012—U Khin Nyunt continues to downplay his former role.

Last October, respected dissident U Win Tin met the former general who was once his jailer. “Let bygones be bygones,” U Khin Nyunt told the NLD cofounder, who spent nearly 20 years behind bars for advocating a peaceful return to democratic rule.

Recently, I had a chance to speak with U Win Tin about his experiences in prison. He told me that when he was interrogated in July 1989, his captors put a hood over his head and punched him repeatedly in the face. Even after almost all of his teeth fell out and he had trouble eating, he was denied treatment.

“Those guys went overboard,” said the 84-year-old, who is still active as a senior member of the NLD.

Asked what he thought about U Khin Nyunt’s provocative question, he had no trouble providing an answer: “I’ll tell you who he should apologize to. He should apologize to former political prisoners, their families and the whole country.”

Since 1988, at least 160 political detainees have died in custody in Myanmar, including 10 who died while being interrogated, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Among the dead are well-known writer U Thaw Ka, veteran politicians U Sein Win and NLD MP-elect U Tin Maung Win, and student activist Ko Thet Win Aung.

U Khin Nyunt’s refusal to acknowledge his central role in these and other abuses has complicated efforts to move beyond the pain of the past.

“Some former political prisoners have requested acknowledgement and an apology, but Khin Nyunt has asserted that there is no reason to argue about these cases because all was done according to the laws at the time,” said Patrick Pierce of the International Center for Transitional Justice.

But it is completely disingenuous for someone who was once one of the top generals in the country to act as if he was just following orders. As U Win Tin noted, Snr-Gen Than Shwe, the leader of the former ruling junta, was not solely responsible for the many abuses committed under military rule. “Khin Nyunt and his people were more responsible [for the treatment of dissidents],” he said. “It was their intention to let us die.”

Indeed, some have argued that U Khin Nyunt was the most powerful member of the ruling regime, at least in the years immediately after it seized power.

“As a protégé of U Ne Win, [Gen Khin Nyunt] came out as the most influential figure in the regime,” wrote Maung Aung Myoe in his book, “Building the Tatmadaw: Myanmar Armed Forces Since 1948.”

One incident in particular demonstrated the extent of his power: the forced retirement of then regime leader Snr-Gen Saw Maung on April 23, 1992, a move that “strengthened [Gen Khin Nyunt’s] position significantly,” according to Maung Aung Myoe. Although Snr-Gen Than Shwe assumed the leadership of the regime at that time, he still wielded relatively little actual influence.

Over time, Gen Khin Nyunt sought to increase his power behind the scenes by using his position as spy chief to keep the other generals in check. Under his leadership, officers in the MI were feared by those in the infantry, and the normal hierarchy was subverted. “A captain in the intelligence corps never cared about a colonel in the infantry. The commanding officer of a local intelligence battalion, a major, behaved as if he was of equal power as the regional commander, a major-general, in that region,” wrote Maung Aung Myoe.

When he was in power, Gen Khin Nyunt was incorrectly regarded by some foreign observers and diplomats as a “moderate,” and when he was eventually sacked, this was seen as confirmation that he was a “softliner.” Nothing, however, could have been further from the truth.

The reality was that he had spread his tentacles into every corner of the regime’s affairs, and was a central player in all of its often brutal activities. He victimized not only dissidents but also any group that he saw as a threat to the junta’s hold on power. Thus he was instrumental in shutting down the country’s universities, reopening them only after they had been relocated to remote, ill-equipped campuses where students could no longer organize protests, or get a meaningful education.

The people of Myanmar suffered terribly under Gen Ne Win, the dictator who seized power in 1962 and was finally forced to step down in 1988, but many now have worse memories of the years when his protégé, Gen Khin Nyunt, still wore a uniform.

For all he has done, U Khin Nyunt and his key subordinates deserve to face justice. Unfortunately, under the current delicate political circumstances in Myanmar, that is unlikely to happen. But until he makes amends to all those whose lives he has ruined, U Khin Nyunt will never find the peace he seeks through meditation and donations to pagodas. If justice doesn’t extract its due, karma certainly will.

Kyaw Zwa Moe is the editor of the English-language edition of The Irrawaddy.

This story was first published in the January 2014 print edition of The Irrawaddy magazine.

9 Responses to Criminals at Large

  1. Fox than shwe does and did the same with those of evil Khin nyunt in the aspects of all cruelty on their own people. They are in the same boat when each hold the power in Burma. Now, fox than shwe wants to tell all ordinary Burmese that evil Khin Nyunt is more worsen than fox (him) when fox forgets about mass killing monks in 2007 and Nargic cyclone 2008 mass killing own citizens with full intentions and well plan ahead.
    To release evil Khin nyunt earlier is fox political strategy to have more ex-bama military men more freely move or vote to fox(him) in coming 2015 election Burma. Another factor is to test the public response ( text dose ) upon past evil khin nyunts’ cruel killing behaviour as well. If evil Khin Nyunt tells about the goodness of fox than shwe, fox can calculate/see/ find the results of his fox test dose on public afterwards for his future plan in coming election how to beat DASSK unfairly.
    Those evil Khin Nyunt criminal groups (released or not ) have no where to go to vote for any kind of oppositional parties. Because those all criminals are rejected by all oppositional parties, including NLD. If NLD accepts those criminals easily and readily, NLD reputation will be tarnished as a ex-military party very soon as a label from USDP. If NLD does not accepts those criminals with even their apology for wrong doing in the past, NLD does not act according to Buddhism teaching from forgiveness and wirathu’s sex symbol 969.

    Those evil criminals mostly will vote fox for their safety in future in order to prevent all other oppositional parties’ wining 2015 general election whatever it is in Burma. Burma has no right for all prisoners to vote for all general election as far as i know.

    Now fox than shwe makes a trick and traps on DASSK to force her 2 sons to be Burmese citizens. If becoming Burmese citizenship, everybody(all oversea Burmese returnees), particularly, DASSK’s 2 sons in Burma before election 2015 can not be safe if Kachin General Gum Maw is not Burmese army chief of staff. Child soldier ming aung hlaing does not/needs not listen to puppet thein sein’s promises/orders/announcement (see in Killing Kachin).
    One day before 2015 election, her 2 sons will be denounced as a criminal or treason charge by fox than shwe although her 2 sons were in oversea vacation trip to avoid those risks. If her 2 sons are not beside with DASSK just before or during election, DSSSK election campaign will be set back by USDP for her sons’ lack of nationalism, sovereignty and Buddhism. If holding with UK citizenship, 2 sons are not allowed to participate in any political campaign from the accusation of foreign invasion, announced by USDP, followed by ming aung hlaing’s military coup according to Nargic 2008 constitution. If offering dual citizenship to her 2 sons, those 2 sons at least have protection from UK in the tricky threat of fox on them. However, it will take time to get release them from Insein prison with whatever reasons. Once her 2 sons becomes Burmese citizenship, those 2 sons should be studying/working in oversea all along, even during school holidays to avoid the conspiracy from both the fox para-military men and idiot wirathu as well.

    Wirathu will force or ask her 2 sons to believe in Buddhism instead of Christian or Muslim as well as to ask her 2 sons to give up their foriegn girlfriends. Wirathu will trace their sex lives because wirathu is interested in other personal matter and does not respect personal choices in marriage, sex, food (not allow to take western food choice, language used( not allow to speak Christian dominated Kachin and Chin and Karen language) and religious belief. All naive Burmese will give attention on her 2 sons movements, behaviors for blaming and criticizing with shifting the interest from abolishing Nargic 2008 constitution to personal matters of her 2 sons.
    By any reasons, her 2 sons should not be in Burma before the outcome of 2015 general election results whether they hold dual citizenship or green card or Burmese citizenship. Her 2 sons with Burmese citizen should be in UK for long, long military training for future Burma upon the request of all poor Burmese people. The best is to get the medical certificates (both knees injury during military training) for her 2 sons to avoid to be in Burma at the time of 2015 general election.

  2. Classic sociopath. He admits no guilt. Actually believes he was the aggrieved party. ‘Let bygones be bygones’ he says, basking in luxury he accrued while presiding over one of history nastiest torture factories.

  3. Ogre Khin Nyunt should stand trial and face justice. He should be sentenced to life with harshest punishments and most painful torture meted out to him on daily and routine basis. With each stroke of punishment n torture remind him of how he was solely instrumental in the death of, maiming, mutilating, tormenting and destruction of innocent minds, intellect, bodies, their and their families’ future. Show him pictures of how his soldiers and prison wardens mercilessly tortured their innocent captives to be followed by the same method of torture to him so that he can taste his own bitter pills.

    Only then justice will be served in a very small way to those who survived and departed souls can take a sigh of little relief in their graves.

    Readers and All Burmese People: please do no suggest reconciliation, forgiveness, forget the past, look to the future, ‘Mandela-ism’, etc. These litanies will not serve any good to survivors and victims of OKN’s inhuman treatments nor will it allay their physical n mental trauma. Carry out justice in the name of justice and for the sake of the victims, so that it will serve as a strong and stark deterrent to Burmese Military and any future Ogre Khin Nyuntssss!

  4. Yet Aung San Su Kyi still love those monsters and tell the people of Myanmar to forgive them just because she has a position in the parliament dominated by her favorite Tatmadaw. People of Myanmar will have to carry the yoke of maximum hardship as long as this military regime is in power.

  5. This issue boils down to:

    “Than-tha-yar” in Pali.

    In English, and in Buddhist terms – “payback”

    Anyway he had to payback anyhow according to Buddhist belief

    – Whatever the excuses maybe.

  6. Did the regime law say, “Kill, if you don’t like the persons?”. Death happened at interrogation centers. Khin Nyunt was responsible for those deaths. He must show us the law which allowed to to kill innocent lives at detention centers and interrogation centers.

  7. Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.

  8. another article about Khin Nyunt’s PAST crimes? Where is the genglemen’s etiquette of not kicking someone when he is down? For sure, Khin Nyunt was a bad dude BEFORE. He, however, is no longer in a position of power, and extremely unlikely will ever be again. How about giving him some space and letting him live the rest of his life in peace? Wait till he passes away, and open up every detail about his past for everyone interested to see.

    On the other hand, there were and still are equally bad, if not worse, dudes in Burmese politics. Some of them are still pulling strings behind the scenes–definitely not for the greater good. I am sure the Irrawaddy knows who I am referring to. If a magazine wants to be recognized and to become a voice of righteousness and neutrality, shouldn’t it be going after the big dog that is still running the show. Are there Lese Majeste laws in Burma that punish journalists who dare to write about the big TS? I didn’t write his full name just in case there actually are such laws in Burma and get your Burmese business in troubles.

    Writing about a down-and-out general seems like fighting below your weight class. Is it because he can’t put up a viable defense to accusations anymore? I thought souls at the Irrawaddy are braver than this.

  9. Law and order should apply to all criminals. It should be for Khin Yunt , Maugn Aye, Than Shwe , Thein Sein and others , who had ordered to kill ruthlessly Monks, students and public.

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