Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Child General of God's army

I have seen their picture; but I did not believe that a kid of a minor age, can be having the responsibility of the tribal army. They should be in school, they should be in sport....But this is the reality in the Burma even today for minority, they are facing ethnic cleansing by Junta. After the attack of Burmese army, some said they were dead, some said they have escaped, other said they have surrender and led a normal life in refugee camp ; .... but where are they?...They should be 22 years old now.

They were the generals of the Karen guerrillas...the twin brother of Luther and Johnny,the General of God's Army.

Luther's eyes roll as he sucks on a fat cigarette, Johnny smiles and pokes out his tongue. 2000's hostage crisis in the Thai hospital at Ratchaburi brought the world's attention to the God's Army. These twelve-year-old twins hit the headlines as the masterminds behind this and an earlier hostage incident at the Burmese Embassy. New pictures and footage of the boys provides an eerie glimpse into their crusade. For their dedicated followers they are divinely inspired leaders with the protection of an invisible horde of Karen warriors. "When they were born the sound of crowds was heard... when people went to look there were no footprints," reports Sister Roberts, an American nun who has counseled and watched the boys for the last 3 years. The twins lead with the Bible, reciting their favorite passages as an ideological platform. When in battle they talk like adults and are deeply respected.

KNU, The Karen National Union

KNU, The Karen National Union (KNU) is a political organisation with an armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army that represents the Karen people of Burma. It operates in Eastern Burma, and has underground networks in other areas of Burma where Karen people live. In Karen, this Karen State area is called Kawthoolei. The Karen National Union, with an estimated 4,000-6,000 fighters, mostly carries out hit-and-run attacks. The Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO) has 2000 fighters, 90% Karen (2% Shan, 2% Mon, 6% others). The KNU's effectiveness was severely diminished after the fall of its headquarters at Manerplaw, near the Thai border, in 1995.

Also in 1994, a group of Buddhist soldiers in the KNLA, citing discrimination by the KNU's overwhelmingly Christian leadership against the Buddhist Karen majority, broke away and established the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army or DKBA. They were led by a monk widely thought to be an agent of the Burmese dictatorship. The DKBA quickly agreed to a ceasefire with the Burmese army and was granted business concessions at the expense of their former KNU overlords. The KNU and DKBA have since been in regular fighting, with the DKBA actively supported by the Burmese army.

God's Army 1997-2001

1997- God's Army was formed on March 7, 1997, inside Burma, after about 200 deeply religious and superstitious Karen Christian families decided to abandon the villages they had lived in for centuries in the Tavoy area of Burma and flee to Thailand in February, 1997. During the journey to the Thai border, eight-year-old twins Johnny and Luther Htoo both claimed to have had a vision of God commanding them to lead their young compatriots to fight the SPDC, Kwe Htoo recalled. Padu Kwe Htoo Win, who has been a leading member of the anti-government Karen National Union (KNU) and chairman of its Mergui-Tavoy district since 1991. .

''They asked my permission to fight the SPDC. I thought it was a joke and told them that anyone can fight the SPDC.'' These were under Shwe Bya, God's Army's military commander, who also manipulated the twins.

God's Army began in 1997 during the near-defeat of the Karen National Union (KNU), a 4,000-man rebel group, which was hammered by Burma's military. According to a legend, KNU insurgents abandoned a village where the twins lived, but the brothers inspired local Karen men to successfully fight and protect their homes. As a result, poorly educated Karens hailed the twins as God-powered beings.

Siege of Burmese Embassy, Bangkok - created new enemy, Thailand
1999- Earlier, in June 1999, a KSO leader with connections to a foreign intelligence agency brought 12 members of a radical group called the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors (VBSW) to Takolang. He introduced them to Saw Toe Toe, a founding member and secretary-general of God's Army, who led the VBSW members to God's Army's camp inside Burma in early September, 1999.

''Taking advantage of God's Army's innocence, they convinced the group that they would be better off joining in future VBSW military operations,'

The 25-hour siege of the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok in Oct 1999, was organised and carried out by the VBSW, whose members obtained hand grenades and rifles from the God's Army base. They took 89 people hostage, including embassy staff, foreigners and Thais.

After negotiations with Thai officials, the VBSW members and some of their hostages were flown from Bangkok to the God's Army headquarters inside Burma, where they were welcomed by a waiting group of God's Army soldiers led by Shwe Bya.

Ratchaburi Province Hospital - the beginning of the downfall
2000 - January 24, 2000, when three VBSW members, accompanied by seven God's Army rebels, hijacked a bus near the Thai border and forced the driver to take them to Ratchaburi, where they then took over the provincial hospital. Several hundred people, including patients and hospital staff, were held captive for about 22 hours.

Though God's Army was not directly responsible for the attack they were assigned most of the blame, and they immediately came under heavy military pressure from both sides of the border. Kwe Htoo said the attacks on the Burmese Embassy and Ratchaburi Hospital had catastrophic consequences for both God's Army and the VBSW. Thailand was now their ''second enemy'' after the SPDC. God's Army was exploited and tricked by the VBSW, who promised them new uniforms, food, medicine, weapons and ammunition in return for their support. None of their promises materialized. The greatest mistakes of God's Army was the attack on the Ratchaburi Hospital, not a military or political object , but a civilian object. The twin, Johnny and Luther Htoo was reported to be a figurehead for the God's Army, the actual leader was Bu Shwe Pya, a Kamaplaw village leader.

2001 - Finally, in January, 2001, after almost four years of armed resistance against the SPDC and being pursued most of that time by Thai authorities as well, about 20 hungry, exhausted and desperate God's Army remnants, including Johnny and Luther, surrendered to Thai authorities. Then Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai met the twins at Suan Phung and talked with them briefly through an interpreter.

From its formation in March 1997 until its curtain fall in January 2001, the God's Army was a costly failure. It didn't bring any benefits to the Karen people or to the pro-democracy movement. The only ones who gained were a few exiled opportunists, their radical organizations, some foreign intelligence services and the SPDC. The vast majority of the Burmese dissident leaders agreed that the embassy and the hospital sieges, ostensibly done to attract attention to the pro-democracy movement, were actually major setbacks, as they caused the sentiment of the Thai government and the Thai people to turn against them.

Now, God's Army ceased to exist.

Luther had married
2004- In May 2004, the twins made the news again – this time, the Nation had discovered that Luther had married a 19-year old Karen woman and had a 6-month old son. Luther wanted to study music to earn money – they both played guitar in the refugee camp – and wanted to get a job and raise his family. Johnny said he did not want to start a family yet because every day he still thinks of other God’s Army members. And news of people tortured, robbed, raped or killed by Burmese troops’ makes him feel terrible because he cannot do anything to help save them. “If I could, I would exchange a comfortable life here and die for the peace of Karen nation.” The boys were 16.

Johnny Htoo surrender to SPDC?
2006- The Burmese government newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, published on July 26, 2006 a report accompanied by a photo showing 10 grim-faced men wearing military uniforms. In the photo Johnny Htoo is standing behind a row of rifles and ammunition. The report said that ''a nine-member armed group of God's Army with its base in another country, led by Johnny Htoo, (had) returned to the legal fold.''. The twins are 18 years old. Did Johnny Htoo returned to fight the SPDC? or just another manipulation of the innocent teen? or a publicity gimmick by the SPDC?...

After Johnny's ''surrender'', Luther contacted Kwe Htoo trying to find out what was going on with his brother. He said he had tried to contact Johnny many times, but to no avail. Recently, Luther received a message from his brother, saying, ''If someone comes and tries to persuade you to surrender (to the SPDC), kill him. Don't ever surrender.''

According to reliable sources, Johnny is now living with his new wife in Myitta town, east of Tavoy, Burma.

Where are the twins now?
2010, the twins should be more than 22 years, are they still living peacefully in Ban Tako Lang in Ratchaburi Province, Thailand; or Myitta, Burma?

KNU Padoh Kwe Htoo: Padu Kwe Htoo Win, who has been a leading member of the anti-government Karen National Union (KNU) and chairman of its Mergui-Tavoy district since 1991. He was with Johhny and Luther in 1999 & 2000.

Map of Amphoe Suan Phueng(สวนผึ้ง), changwat Ratchaburi(ราชบุรี)province

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The refugee camp at Ban Takolang/Takolang villge(บ้านตะโกล่าง)

The place that used to see the child soldiers, Ban Tako Lang(บ้านตะโกล่าง)now is a peaceful town.
The residents are happy with their life, and the children are able to attend school. The village is located at Ban Don Yang Camp,Tambon Suan Phueng(สวนผึ้ง),Amphoe Suan Phueng(อำเภอสวนผึ้ง),Ratchaburi Province(ราชบุรี).

Ratchaburi (often shortened Rat'buri, Thai: ราชบุรี) is one of the central provinces (changwat) of Thailand. Neighboring provinces are (from north clockwise) Kanchanaburi, Nakhon Pathom, Samut Sakhon, Samut Songkhram and Phetchaburi. In the west it borders Tanintharyi Division of Myanmar.

Ratchaburi means, "The land of the king." The province is full of cultural heritage, beautiful places, and historical sites. Ratchaburi covers 5200 square kilometers. It is located 80 kilometers west of Bangkok and borders Burma to the west with the Tanaosi range as a borderline. It has Mea Klong River through the center of town.

The province comprises 10 amphoe:- Ban Kha; Ban Pong; Bang Phae; Chom Bueng; Damnoen Saduak; Mueang Ratchaburi; Pak Tho; Photharam; Suan Phueng; Wat Phleng.

Amphoe Suan Phueng(อำเภอสวนผึ้ง) is a district (Amphoe) in the western part of Ratchaburi Province, central Thailand. It is situated on the highland, surrounded with mountains bordering Thailand and Myanmar. Therefore, the climate is quite cool similar to the northern part of Thailand, and it is not far from Bangkok, taking only 2 hours by car.The name Suan Phueng (lit. Garden of bees) originates from Phueng trees (Ficus albipila) that are found commonly in the district. In these trees bees (Thai: Phueng) often build their nests.

Amphoe Suan Phueng(อำเภอสวนผึ้ง) administrated 4 Tambons :

1. Suan Phueng สวนผึ้ง
2. Pa Wai ป่าหวาย
3. Tha Khoei ท่าเคย
4. Thanao Si ตะนาวศรี

Tambon Suan Phueng(สวนผึ้ง)consists of 5 mubans:

Ban Thung Fhak
Ban Phapok
Ban Thamhin
Ban Huay Phak
Ban Tako Lang(บ้านตะโกล่าง)

Luther Htoo is reported living at Ban Tako Lang(บ้านตะโกล่าง), Amphoe Suan Phueng(อำเภอสวนผึ้ง). Some said he is at Ban Dong Yang refugee camp, Kanchanaburi.

Tavoy(now Dawei)town, Tanintharyi Division, Burma

The junta has undertaken large-scale projects - such as the Ye-Tavoy railway and that require thousands of workers to complete during the period from 1994 to 1998, which purposed is to provide logistics for the pipeline and military deployment in the area. Soldiers gathered villagers, old people, women and children even students, and forced them to work on these projects for at least 15 days per month during these years. Although the laborers cannot
tend to work in their fields while working on the projects, they must supply their own food for the families and those who worked in the construction site. Even during severe rain and heat, workers must sleep on the ground. Hunger and unhealthy conditions often lead to malaria or other diseases on the work sites, but no medication is available. Force labor in Ye –Tavoy railway construction was the clear reason one what the residents had suffered as slave labor-to escape this many people enter into Thailand(source:http://www.burmalibrary.org).

In February 1997, 200 deeply religious and superstitious Karen Christian families decided to abandon the villages they had lived in for centuries in the Tavoy area of Burma and flee to Thailand. The villagers included the family of eight-year-old twins Johnny and Luther Htoo.

Just across the border from Ban Dong Yang, Kanchanaburi(officially known as a “refugee camp”), located at Three Pagoda’s Pass border crossing is Burma's three main Mon resettlement sites called Hlockhani, Bee Ree, and Tavoy, which have over 10,000 residents. The largest of these, Halockhani, was founded in 1994, when the strongest Mon armed political party, the NMSP, was still in armed conflict with the Burmese military government. The camp was created to shelter the thousands of Mon refugees who had fled from the suffering caused by the civil war inside Burma.

Location of Tavoy town, now Dawei

Dawei (formerly known as Tavoy, Thai:ทวาย), is a city in southeastern Myanmar and is capital of Tanintharyi Division, situated about 614.3 km (381.7 mi) south of Yangon on the northern bank of the Dawei River. Population (2004 estimate) 139 900. It is situated at 14.09°N 98.20°E. Dawei is a port at the head of the Dawei River estuary, 30 km (18.6 mi). from the Andaman Sea. As a result the city is prone to flooding during the monsoon season.

The village the twin brothers come from are located at Tavoy area. Johnny Htoo is now reported living with his new wife in Myitta town, east of Tavoy, Burma.

God's Army base - Kamaplaw village,eastern Tenasserim,Burma; 12 miles from Thailand's Amphoe Suan Phueng(อำเภอสวนผึ้ง)in western Ratchaburi province.

The article highlight to us the problem of Child soldiers in Burma's politic. Many of the soldiers in the Burmese army and opposition tribal soldiers are children under age of 18 years old. Johnny and Luther Htoo have married and have family, but there are many like them, manipulated by the reality of Burma's political situation. they should be in school, preparing for their future, but many died before they even become adult. If Burma to continue under Junta military rule where there is no respect of human right, many children will be dying, not out of hunger, but out of the wars.

Related articles

1. Not a child Anymore: Johnny Htoo has come of age, by Taisamyone, http://burmadigest.wordpress.com/2006/07/31/not-a-child-anymore-johnny-htoo-has-come-of-age/
2. Twin Crusade - Burma, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IkebbEAAqWA
3. Bizarre 'God's Army' Led By Young Boys Surrenders , Richard S. Ehrlich - 7/27/2006,
4. God's Army: The reason for the Burmese Embassy siege(2008) & Takolang sheds its old image , http://www.bangkokpost.com/280908_Spectrum/28Sep2008_spec001.php
5. History of the Karens and KNU, http://www.karen.org/knu/KNU_His.htm
6. My gun was as tall as me - Child Soldier in Burma,UNHCR,http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/country,,HRW,,MMR,,3dae8a8c6,0.html
7. Thai commandos raid hospital, nine gunmen killed, one escapes, http://www.shareholderpower.com/karenethnicgenocideburma.htm
8. http://www.uzo.net/bnnj/meisai.php?id=3459

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