Burma’s ex-spy chief Khin Nyunt has said that he personally intervened to save the life of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi during an attack nine years ago.
The former prime minister told the Bangkok Post Sunday that he saved Suu Kyi’s convoy from a pro-junta mob on the outskirts of Depayin Township in Sagaing Division on May 30, 2003.
“I sent my men to snatch her from the mob that night and they brought her to safety to a nearby army cantonment,” Khin Nyunt was quoted by the Thailand-based newspaper.
Despite the lack of an official death toll for the Depayin Massacre, Burmese dissidents claim around 70 people perished in the attack. The slaughter took place in Kyee village, on the outskirts of Depayin Township in Sagaing Division, central Burma.
Ohn Kyaing, a leading member of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, told The Irrawaddy that he once had a conversation with Kyaw Soe Lin—who served as Suu Kyi’s driver at that time—about the incident.
“I curiously asked [Kyaw Soe Lin] about the attack,” said Ohn Kyaing on Tuesday. “He told me that he barely managed to drive out of the area and reach nearby Ye-U Town. When he reached the village, he met a group of soldiers who then detained them.”
In a book titled The Lady and the Peacock: the Life of Aung San Suu Kyi by Peter Popham, Kyaw Soe Lin said that as they entered Ye-U, armed guards forced them to stop, demanded to know who was in the car and made them wait.
Half-an-hour later a large contingent of soldiers turned up, he explained.
“One officer, apparently a battalion commander, arrived and put a gun to my temple and ordered us to go with them,” Kyaw Soe Lin was quoted as saying. “Daw Daw [Suu Kyi] nodded at me, so I did as they said. We were taken to Ye-U Jail,” he added.
The Depayin Massacre was launched by a pro-junta group consisting of members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association and the Swan Ah Shin militia, who blocked the road to prevent vehicles from escaping the ambush. They also shone floodlights from trees lining the route, which was partially covered with barbed wire.
There was speculation that Soe Win, who served as Secretary-2 of the former military junta at that time, masterminded the Depayin Massacre. It is believed that he ordered the attack without the knowledge of Khin Nyunt who served as Secretary-1. Three months after the attack, Khin Nyunt became the prime minister of Burma.
Khin Nyunt also told the Bangkok Post Sunday that he regarded Suu Kyi as his younger sister and had “brotherly admiration” for her resoluteness.
In the parliamentary by-elections of April 1, although no explicit confirmation was made by Khin Nyunt, many journalists in Rangoon believe that the ex-spy chief cast his vote for Suu Kyi’s NLD party.
Khin Nyunt told reporters after casting his ballot in Mayangone Township in Rangoon that he voted for a political party that he believed served the interests of civilians as well as in accordance with the will of the majority.
His son, Zaw Naing Oo, publicly went on record that he voted for May Win Myint, a candidate representing the main opposition NLD.
Khin Nyunt was also infamous for punishing political dissidents while in power. He was a key figure during the violently crushed 1988 pro-democracy uprising who ordered the oppression of political activists and sentenced many to years in prison.
After being freed from house arrest on Jan. 13, Khin Nyunt, in his 70s, told journalists that he would not get involved in politics but focus on social work.
He founded his own social charity group called the “Shwe Hmaw Won Foundation.” It provides financial support to education, health and social community initiatives. He also accepted the role as patron of Mya Yeik Nyo—a charitable foundation run by Khin Shwe, one of Burma’s richest men who is on the US sanction list.