Symbol of Myanmar’s democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi’s house set for March auction

Experts say the property will never sell at a court-ordered starting price of US$90 million.
By RFA Burmese
2024.02.18
Symbol of Myanmar’s democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi’s house set for March auction U.S. President Barack Obama speaks alongside Aung San Suu Kyi at her residence in Yangon, Nov. 19, 2012.
Jason Reed/Reuters

Many Burmese consider it a symbol of the country’s democracy movement, where Aung San Suu Kyi lived under house arrest for almost 15 years. They recall her giving political speeches from behind its fence.

Granted freedom in 2010, Suu Kyi received U.S. President Barack Obama, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon at the compound.

In March, the historic lakeside home and its two acres of land in the heart of Yangon will be auctioned at a starting price of more than 300 billion kyats, or about US$90 million – a figure observers say no one will pay.

Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government, or NUG – former civilian leaders now in exile or hiding – has vowed to take legal action against anyone who might purchase the compound, saying it should be protected as a place of cultural heritage.

The NUG accused the junta of selling the house as part of a vendetta against Suu Kyi, the head of the deposed National League for Democracy and the country’s former de facto leader whose government the military overthrew in a February 2021 coup.

Under the law, Suu Kyi has the right to purchase the home at the reserve price before it goes to auction.

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Aung San Suu Kyi’s residence in Yangon is seen Nov. 14, 2014. (Image from pool video via Reuters)

But Suu Kyi, 78, is now in prison, sentenced by the junta to 33 years on 19 charges. That was later reduced to 27 years. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate is believed to be in solitary confinement in Naypyidaw Prison, in the capital.

Last month, her son Kim Aris, who lives in the United Kingdom, received a letter from her – the first public communication from her since late 2022. Aris didn’t have much to say about her health based on the letter, but she is believed to be suffering from medical and dental problems.

A Yangon based lawyer who, like others interviewed for this report, declined to be named due to security concerns, told RFA that if Suu Kyi refuses to purchase the home and it goes to auction, the junta is unlikely to find a bidder.

“The floor price for the auction is very high, but this is not a house owned by an ordinary citizen,” he said. “Since it is a part of the historical heritage of the country, it will be very difficult for anyone to buy this grand residence, so it has little chance for success at auction.”

The lawyer said that if the reserve price is not met, the court will proceed with the sale of the property on the open market in accordance with the law.

Family dispute

The lakeside home was awarded to Suu Kyi’s mother, Khin Kyi, after her father, independence activist Gen. Aung San was assassinated in 1947. 

But ownership of the historic property has long been disputed by Suu Kyi and her elder brother Aung San Oo.

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Aung San Suu Kyi smiles as she talks to journalists during a press conference at her lakeside residence March 14, 2012, in Yangon. (Khin Maung Win/AP)

On Aug. 22, 2022, the junta-controlled Union Supreme Court declared the house would be auctioned under Aung San Oo’s appeal. 

In mid-January, a source close to the Kamayut District Court told RFA Burmese that an order had been issued allowing the junta to sell the property at an auction set for March 20. 

In recent days, an auction order issued by the Kamayut court was posted at the residence at No. 54, University Avenue in Yangon’s Bahan township, confirming the date and reserve price. Similar notices later appeared at the court and revenue offices of regional and district levels.

A real estate agent told RFA that the reserve price is “too high” compared to other properties on the township’s Inya Lake that offer similar scenic views.

“One exception is that the house is situated in a good location,” he said. “However, no one will buy it because of the high price and the fact that it is a significant landmark.”

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People row past Aung San Suu Kyi’s residence on Inya Lake in Yangon on May 7, 2009. (Khin Maung Win/AP)

However the auction plays out, the NUG is adamant that the property shouldn’t be sold to a private owner.

"This land and house belonged to national leader Bogyoke Aung San and his wife Khin Kyi. The property is related to the current State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi,” said NUG Prime Minister’s Office spokesperson Nay Phone Latt, using an honorific to refer to the independence leader.

“The NUG has already declared it as an interim national heritage site, and has clearly stated that those who sell and buy the property, and those who are involved in trying to privatize it, will be prosecuted in accordance with the law.”

Translated by Aung Naing. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

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