The Burmese government will not return the famed Yawnghwe Palace to the family of the late Sao Shwe Thaik, according to a letter from the office of President Win Myint.
Sao Haymar Thaik, daughter of Sao Shwe Thaik—Burma’s first President and Yawnghwe Township’s last saopha, or hereditary prince—told SHAN that the National League for Democracy (NLD) government had rejected requests by her family to return the palace to them.
The letter stated that if the palace, which the government currently operates as a cultural museum, were to be transferred over to the Yawnghwe family, the relatives might divide up the property inside and sell it. Inside the palace, which is located near Inle Lake in the township that the government has re-named Nyaungshwe in Burmese, are royal clothing, furniture, paintings, sculptures, photos, Buddha images, and other items on display.
“Their response letter is insulting. It suggests that I am going to sell the palace if I get it,” Sao Haymar Thaik told SHAN. “Our information and the information in their response are quite different,” she added.
According to the office of the President since the palace, or haw in Shan, is more than 100 years old, it is protected under the cultural heritage law.
However, the Kengtung Haw, located in the eastern Shan State town by the same name, did not enjoy this protection. It was destroyed by the military in 1991, replaced by the Amazing Kengtong Resort, which enjoys a 70-year-lease on the land. Public requests to build a replica of the palace on-site which would operate as a Shan cultural museum were rejected in February by the NLD government.
Sao Haymar Thaik said that she had raised the issue of reclaiming the Yawnghwe Haw with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on multiple occasions and was not expecting the recent response from the President’s Office.
“I feel so angry. Why do they want to take another person’s home?” she said. “I had already discussed the Yawnghwe Haw with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi three times. She told me to discuss it again in Naypyidaw. Before we could meet again, the President’s Office sends this letter.”
Sao Shwe Thaik died in prison after the military took control of the country in a 1962 coup and raided the family residence. His 17-year-old son was killed. The President’s family went into exile, where they remain.