Burma’s Former Spy Opens Art Gallery in Rangoon

By Lawi Weng 15 May 2013

RANGOON—“I feel peace now, but I wanted to experience it more,” Burma’s former spymaster, one of the most feared men in Burma under the previous military regime, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. Khin Nyunt was accused of gross human rights abuses during his time in government, but now that he’s out of office he’s trying to find some zen—by getting in touch with his artistic side.

Khin Nyunt, who also served as prime minister under the former junta, has opened an art gallery in Burma’s commercial capital of Rangoon, welcoming members of the public into a beautiful Eden-like garden with fruit trees and rare flowers where artists can exhibit their work.

The barbed wire fences which used to keep out unwanted guests have been removed, as have the security details that once kept a lookout for the slightest signs of trouble. But the watchful eyes of the state are not far away, as soldiers stand guard over nearby military buildings.

Khin Nyunt has had numerous visitors—mostly elderly Burmese—to his “Nawaday Art Gallery” since he opened it to the public over the weekend. He greeted visitors on Tuesday dressed in a T-shirt and traditional green longyi.

In an exclusive interview with The Irrawaddy, he said he wanted to bring peace to his life by helping others, including Burmese artists.

“There are people who are good painters,” he said. “I wanted to help them. They can exhibit their work here without charge.

“A lot of tourists are visiting our country now as we have political change,” he continued. “This will be a place where tourists can come and buy good paintings, or I will help our Burmese artists to export their work and sell it to foreign countries.”

After serving for 45 years in the former military junta, Khin Nyunt said he now feels free.

“I did many things [during military rule], as it was my duty for the country,” he said. “It was a big burden. My life is free now and it is very different from the past.

“I have peace now. I feel sympathy to those who have to serve the country today. They have big burden.”

When asked what he believed he achieved under the former regime, he said he had started bringing peace to Burma’s ethnic regions but was not able to finish the job.

The military government under Khin Nyunt was accused of gross human rights violations during decades-long wars against marginalized minority groups in Burma’s ethnic regions. Since a nominally civilian government came to power in 2010, ceasefire deals have been reached with 10 major ethnic armed groups but fighting continues in Shan State and Kachin State.

Khin Nyunt refused to discuss politics on Tuesday, saying he was no longer a member of the government and it was not his place to be critical.

He has no further political ambitions, he said. Rather, he wants to pursue religious life.

“I wanted to tell the people that I would not do any more politics because I feel some people are afraid of me,” he said.