Aung San Suu Kyi

Former strongman's release is a good sign

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 January, 2012, 12:00am


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Few acts indicate the remarkable transformation under way in Myanmar than the recent release of former prime minister Khin Nyunt.

Khin Nyunt is the former chief of the country's feared military intelligence apparatus. He was pictured laughing with reporters outside his Yangon home after spending eight years in detention and house arrest. He was jailed following a purge in 2004.

For years, Khin Nyunt played an important role in Myanmar's military junta during and after the bloody suppression of nationwide pro-democracy protests in 1988.

Yet there Khin Nyunt, 73, was now, smiling freely. He said he was pleased to see opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi (once his staunch foe) talking with his former military counterpart, President Thein Sein.

He lauded the country's new parliament and press freedoms.

Back in the day, when he ran the country's secretive regime, he was not known for such breeziness.

The former strongman insisted he had no plans as yet to involve himself in the country's emerging political scene. 'I'm very glad to be released, but I haven't given any thought yet to become involved in politics,' he said. 'I need to rest.'

Khin Nyunt had a 'prince of darkness' image during the 1990s. Yet he is now viewed as a moderate - compared with the inept, brutal and paranoid government officials of the past decade.

While in power, he tried to boost tourism and foreign investment.

The question now is: Will he play a role in fostering such efforts again, or will he revert to a darker past?

Khin Nyunt was released from prison alongside more than 600 political prisoners, some of whom are now middle-aged student activists from the late 1980s.

He is Burmese-Chinese and had extensive connections in the region, especially in Singapore, Thailand and on the mainland. His two sons were once prominent in military and commercial circles. They, too, have been released.

The signs are that Myanmar may well have a very good year in 2012.