‘I Want to Build a Peaceful Life for Myself’

Former intelligence chief Khin Nyunt sits in his new art gallery in Rangoon. (Photo: Nan Thiri Lwin / The Irrawaddy)

Khin Nyunt, a former prime minister and spy chief of the previous Burmese military regime, was released from house arrest on Jan. 13, 2012, under an amnesty order endorsed by reformist President Thein Sein.

He recently opened an art gallery, cafe and souvenir shop inside his residential compound. All three are named “Nawaday,” after the road his house is located on, in Rangoon’s Dagon Township.

Formerly one of the most powerful and feared men in Burma under the military junta, Khin Nyunt sat down with The Irrawaddy to talk about his inspiration for opening the gallery, the changes in his life since his days with the regime, and whether he would ever consider a return to the political arena.

How did you come up with the idea to open an art gallery and coffee corner?

I respect the 10 Burmese arts [traditional forms of art metaphorically called the ‘Ten Flowers’] very much and held an exhibition for them every year when I was in office. They are our real traditional arts and have been in existence since the beginning of Burmese history.

However, some of the arts have faded a bit due to other changes in the new era. It wouldn’t be that way if we all loved and preserved them. I am now trying to do what I can to promote the art of painting [one of the Ten Flowers].

A lot of tourists are visiting our country now because of our political changes and they are quite interested in Burmese paintings. Some of them have bought a number of pieces.

I value our paintings as well as the artists. I want [Burmese] paintings, which they value, to be in different countries around the world as valuable works. To do so, there must be galleries like this where Burma’s painters can exhibit and sell their works at decent prices. They can exhibit their works here in my gallery without any charge.

Does someone have to be a famous artist to exhibit his or her paintings in this gallery? Or can any painter bring their works here?

Nawaday Art Gallery doesn’t discriminate among artists. They can come and exhibit their works regardless of whether they are famous or not. But they must be real painters and not fake ones. If they are real they can come and discuss available gallery space.

There is speculation on social media that as a courtesy you will allow artists who are former political prisoners to use your gallery to exhibit their works. Is that true?

No. I have never talked about political prisoners in connection with exhibiting. My gallery doesn’t have any restrictions to discriminate against anyone. Everybody can come and exhibit their works.

How did you achieve the gallery’s current profile just over a year after your release from house arrest?

I first had to pay attention to survival after I was released from house arrest, as I am not a rich person. When I was in office, I wasn’t involved in corruption or profiteering with other businessmen so I had to strive for my family’s survival right after the release.

The opening of the art gallery and other facilities is my second attempted social activity. The first one was the establishment of the Shwe Hmaw Wun Foundation in my hometown last year in order to provide assistance to the education and health care sectors.

I want to build a peaceful life for myself during my second endeavor. I now have peace and expect that I will be more peaceful with the gallery open.

Is a desire to get in better touch with the general public a motivation for your opening of this gallery and coffee corner?

No. I don’t have such intention at all. Why do I have to get in touch with the general public? Just ask me directly whether I will get involved in politics again! I would say no, no, no. I will just establish a peaceful life for me in my compound.

I wasn’t involved in politics in the past either. I did many things [during military rule] as I was assigned by the state. So I don’t even think about being involved in it now.

I served the country for 45 years and I’m now 74. I don’t think people at my age should be involved in politics. Instead, we must pay attention to religious and social activities. Those who should be involved in politics are young and middle-aged people and next generations.

So I will just focus on religious and social activities, through which I can earn merit.

What will be your third post-regime endeavor? Have you thought about it?

I am interested in social issues so, if I have a chance, I will provide humanitarian assistance to others.

You used to hold high positions under the military regime and now you’re an ordinary citizen. What is the difference between then and now?

I feel free and peaceful now. The state duties I shouldered were a big burden. I encountered a lot of difficulties and had to put in a lot of effort as well. My life, now peaceful, is very different from the past. A family life is peaceful and cannot compare with anything else. I feel sympathy for those who have to serve the country today. They shoulder a big burden.

When you were in office, you managed to forge ceasefire agreements with various armed ethnic groups in order to bring peace to different regions. A number of agreements were later broken but now the current administration has resumed the peace process. What do you think of that, and how should reconciliation be carried out?

I don’t think I am in a position to criticize the current process. They [current government peace negotiators] are trying for peace, aren’t they? They are working with goodwill and shouldn’t be criticized now. I shouldn’t be critical of them. If both sides [the government and ethnic armed groups] have no doubts about each other, peace will prevail.

Do you feel that you were successful in your work under the former regime?

I just felt that I had to work for my country and was successful whenever I carried out my assignments. I am not conceited or boastful about anything I did and I don’t feel that those successes were because of me.

What do you think of the current reforms?

They are trying as best they can. I will support whoever holds the presidency as long as that person works to contribute to the good of the country and improve the social lives of its citizens. I don’t have particular favor toward anyone or any political party. Our country now has good opportunities so we must not hold such favoritism.

If we all work hand in hand with the same goals for the development of our country and building up people’s social standards, our country will improve sooner. But, if it is unruly and has problems everywhere, our country will never be peaceful and developed. I dare say that.


20 Responses to ‘I Want to Build a Peaceful Life for Myself’

  1. Yes, you can !

    Provided you paid up for what you have done, as God’s Will !

    God will decide when is your Payback Time !

    And you jolly well know what you have done !

  2. First of all, it’s a good interview. If I could meet the former general I like to ask him a few questions. I am just curious to know about some historical events.

    When I was young, people used to say that the United States wanted to help build in Burma a huge highway, along the middle of which the Chinese wanted to help plant trees. The latter was said to be afraid that Americans would land planes on the highway. Because the Chinese would plant trees in the middle of the road, Americans reportedly canceled the aid project.

    Once I attended a French language class at the Foreign Language Institute and I met there former Deputy Prime Minister U Kyaw Nyein. I was sure he might know about our missed opportunity to build a new highway. In a coffee break, I asked the former government leader about it but he bluntly replied, “I have never heard of that.”

    • He didn’t know, he didn’t win the election. I agree with you that politics is subjective, but political science is all about laws, objective. I still can not correlate your comments with Khin Nyunt’s interview. Do you want to say both are ignorant? Yes, some of the ‘politicians’ in the world are complete idiots. They are just ‘born lucky’. It’s about time the ‘politicians’ undergo a basic educational ABC program.

      • I agree with some of your comments about ignorance of some politicians. At the same time, however, I would like to clarify the correlation between my comment about the highway and Gen. Khin Nyunt’s interview. I strongly believe, the highway story never happened in Burma as U Kyaw Nyein hinted. We Burmese tend to circulate unsubstantiated rumors and also believe them without any analysis. We are very weak in analytical skills due to our upbringing.

        Do you recall some reports in 1991 that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi agreed to leave the country if the SLORC allowed her to walk from home to the airport on foot? That news came out when she was held under house arrest incommunicado. Such a baloney! She never said that. An English writer later repeated that story in his book with an insertion that on behalf of the regime the late Sayadaw U Rewata Dhamma had asked her to leave the country. As a matter of fact, Sayadaw met her in person only more than three years later to mediate face-to-face dialogues between her and the generals. I can give many instances of never-ending cycles of rumor-milling in Burma.

        Now regarding Ex. Gen. Khin Nyunt, I like to ask him many questions to establish true historical facts. Of course, I won’t believe all what he may say and nobody should. But we need to record the truths for the history and we can and should learn from them.

        That doesn’t mean that I become neo-Zargana. I can’t forgive him for his sins and cruelties that he committed upon many freedom fighters. But he was one of the top leaders in the military government and he can disclose things/events that we still haven’t learned. Or we have understood some events mistakenly. I hope he’s ready to contribute to better understand the unfortunate developments the country and people had to endure in the past.

        • Just like a murderer will never say he/she kills someone, Aung Kyi and Ne Win pointed fingers at each other after students at RASU were gunned down in the 60’s. K.N of course would say he was a saint and he even saved Daw Su’s life. ( what a laugh). The brown noser had probably endorsed the same for “Dapinyin incident” with a group of butchers. Later, Soe Win, the organiser died of cancer in a Singapore hospital.

  3. ‘I Want to Build a Peaceful Life for Myself’ now that I have bumped off everyone in my way…And yes! you can call me Khin Nyunt the chameleon and my days are numbered.

    • Chameleon is a kind of lizard which changes its color to blend or adapt to the surrounding.

      • Your English is poor: Metaphors and similes’ are not your diet. It would be extraneous for me to explain that the English language is like a pallet of colors; the brush strokes are the choice of words one uses to make that perfect picture. Well! What I am referring to is…a person can change their tune, opinion, behavior to suit his or her purpose for the occasion…like playing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide; so metaphorically speaking the person is like a chameleon.

  4. Well, it’s easy to wish for a peaceful life after what he has done to the other’s peaceful lives. He should consider himself lucky to be living among the people who still believed that what has happened to them was because of their fate.

  5. You and Thaskin aggressively and shamelessly swallowed the whole load……

  6. Not God. Not after death. Not later. Justice now! Justice must be seen to be done. People of Burma must try you for your crimes.

  7. you need to remember how many peaceful life you destroyed,innocent you killed in your torture chambers.

  8. I do not believe this chinese man.
    He is very cunning.

    • He is definitely not a Chinese. Former defense minister Aung Kyi was a Chinese. Also, Ne Win was half Chinese.

      • He is a Chinese from Kyauktann. He was a teacher when Ne Win visited the school where Khin Nyunt was teaching. Ne Win picked him up and promoted him as both of them had Chinese blood.

  9. A lot of evidence has been gathered against this murderous monster. This list of victims is long, and soon he must be held to account for his evil, psychopathic lust for blood.

  10. Maung Lu Aye ( Law ) R.A.S.U.1976

    Truly, I felt Sorry for you. Life is Up & Down. When you were very powerful, you had No Mercy for the Victims. Now, you are trying to be Nice and want to enjoy Life. Do you deserve it ? Arabian Proverb said ” A Mouth that Prays, A Hand that Kills “. It’s about Hypocrisy & Hypocrite.

  11. khin Nyunt is a great criminal.When he was spy chief he committed may inhuman crimes.Now he wants peaceful life.He desreves to put in ICC.

  12. A Leopard ‘NEVER’ changes its spots.

  13. Hello Khin Nyunt,
    You should read all the above comments, How Myanmar people love you. If I were your place, I will suicide myself. How you are disgraceful!!!

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