Myanmar’s Once-Feared Spy Chief Suffering From Alzheimer’s

By The Irrawaddy 6 December 2021

General Khin Nyunt, Myanmar’s former military spy chief and once the country’s most feared man, is being treated for Alzheimer’s disease, according to sources close to his family.

Coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing was informed of the 82-year-old’s diagnosis when he visited Khin Nyunt at his residence in Yangon on Sunday. Sources said Khin Nyunt likely had little idea whom he was meeting with. In a picture of their meeting released by the junta, the once hard-looking and arrogant spy chief appears visibly fragile, pale and weak.

The junta’s mouthpieces said Min Aung Hlaing inquired about the former spy chief’s health and offered to arrange treatment for Khin Nyunt at military hospitals if needed, while “reporting on Myanmar’s political developments” among other things.

Several months ago, Min Aung Hlaing’s aides visited Khin Nyunt’s residence and asked if he was in need of any assistance from the current administration. Khin Nyunt reportedly requested that his pension be restored, along with other benefits. The regime granted the request and agreed to pay a large gratuity in benefits to the general, who was purged in 2004.

He and his wife were treated for COVID-19 at a private hospital in Yangon in mid-2021 when the delta variant of the coronavirus hit Myanmar.

Dubbed “the Prince of Evil,” Khin Nyunt became notorious for masterminding deadly interrogations and the persecution of hundreds—if not more—of Myanmar’s pro-democracy activists. He locked up many dissidents in the country’s remote prisons. Many died in detention due to lack of proper medical treatment, among other reasons.

When the military staged a coup in September 1988, he was the third-most-powerful person in the regime and the head of its intelligence unit—a military apparatus mainly responsible for suppressing political dissent. Khin Nyunt also served as prime minister for more than a year until he was purged by the then dictator Than Shwe in 2004. He was given a 44-year prison sentence but this was later commuted to house arrest. He was freed in an amnesty in 2011.

During his heyday Khin Nyunt was seen as close to China and was the main architect of the regime’s foreign policy. He struck deals with a number of ethnic armed groups including the Wa, and took a personal interest in devising public relations ploys designed to placate Western nations and ASEAN.

Former intelligence officers revealed that following the coup the regime approached Khin Nyunt’s former subordinates, who are now in their late 60s and 70s, to request assistance in various areas including liaising with international contacts such as former US Congressman Bill Richardson, who flew in to Myanmar in November to secure the release of detained US journalist Danny Fenster. Richardson, a former US diplomat, has remained in touch with both the current regime’s advisers and Khin Nyunt’s former fellow intelligence officers.

Former high-ranking intelligence officers Khin Maung Thein, Ngwe Tun and Thein Swe have traveled to Naypyitaw to assist the regime.

Khin Maung Thein, a former ambassador to Japan, is known to be close to Richardson.

Lieutenant Colonel Ngwe Tun attended the Defense Services Academy with Min Aung Hlaing, served in the Navy and joined the intelligence unit after receiving training in the US in 1987. He is now reportedly a full-time consultant for the regime.

Brigadier General Thein Swe attended the Defense Services Academy with former President U Thein Sein and served in the Directorate of Defense Services Intelligence (DDSI). He served as military attaché in Bangkok and was a close aide to Khin Nyunt. In his heyday, the former brigadier general ran the Myanmar Times newspaper with his son Sonny Swe, who went on to launch Frontier Myanmar magazine, where he is the CEO.

Sources said the regime leaders feel a sense of gratitude to Khin Nyunt and his former subordinates.

Since his release from house arrest, Khin Nyunt has written several books including a memoir, which was mainly an exercise in self-justification regarding his actions during his time as spy chief and prime minister.

On Sunday, before visiting Khin Nyunt’s house, coup leader Min Aung Hlaing also visited former commander-in-chief of the armed forces General Tin Oo at his residence in Yangon.

Along with ousted State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, former Gen. Tin Oo co-founded the National League for Democracy in 1988. He served many years in prison and under house arrest.

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