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The Htoo Twins’ Legend Lives On Among Karen 21 Feb 2013 Current Affairs | 2 comments

When twin boys successfully defended their Karen (Kayin) village, it set in motion a military saga.


Johnny Htoo(left) and his brother Luther(right) | Source: http://www.kazak.com

In 1997, the Karen National Liberation Army—the armed branch of the political organization representing the Karen (Kayin) people in eastern Myanmar—was in dire straits. The Burmese military was involved in a full-scale assault on the KNLA, which has been at war with the central Burmese government since 1949, the longest running internal war in history.

When the Htoo twins appeared on the scene in 1997, the 4,000-man KNLA rebel group had just abandoned a village while under heavy fire from the Burmese military. The story goes that the Htoo twins, then age 9, were living in that abandoned village. Arming themselves with some AK-47s that had been stashed in the village, the young boys attempted to hold off the Burmese army by themselves.

And they did.

God's Army

Thus began God’s Army, the audacious guerilla offshoot of the KNLA, led by pre-teen heroes Johnny and Luther Htoo. The twins instantly ascended to a status somewhere in the neighborhood of demi-god. Following are some of the otherworldly characteristics that were attributed to them:

  • Bulletproof… This was one of the most common beliefs, and one that Luther Htoo claimed to be true during an interview in April of 2000. They reportedly could protect their soldiers with this power as well. They also claimed to be mine-proof.
  • Magic bullets… In one story, a twin allegedly gave three soldiers each a magic bullet, instructing them to save the bullets for a time of dire need. A skeptical soldier shot one of the bullets at a tree. After finding 10 bullet-holes in the tree, he became a believer.
  • They could kill by pointing their weapons at the ground. During one battle, Luther sent in his troops and said he would remain behind. He kept his rifle curiously pointed at the ground. Upon the troops’ return, 20 enemies were reported to have been killed. Luther seemed unsurprised, and upon the soldiers’ examination of his rifle, exactly 20 bullets were discovered missing from his magazine.
  • Old man transformation power… While bathing in camp one day, Johnny leapt into the river and emerged as an old white-haired man. “Don’t be afraid, it’s just me, Johnny!” he cried at the troops’ dismay. Turning, he leapt back into the water and came out a boy again.
  • Invisible soldiers… Between the two of them, the twins claimed to command about 400,000 soldiers. Of the kind you could see, they had 200-300.


Johnny and Luther Htoo | Source: http://www.commercialappeal.com

Regardless of their claims, the boys—black hair down past their waists and smoking large Burmese cheroots—led God’s Army on numerous small-scale but successful raids and assaults.

Setbacks

A splinter cell and ally of the God’s Army, the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors (VBSW), was probably the reason things began to fall apart. They took over the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok. After just 24 hours, the Thai government gave in to their demands and provided them safe passage to their jungle hideout along the Thailand-Myanmar border.

This strained relations between Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand, and set the stage for things to get even bloodier. Thai shelling of the border hideouts of the Karen steadily increased, and reports came in of civilian bombardments.

Then 10 members of God’s Army, minus the Htoo twins, stormed a Thai hospital in Ratchaburi in January of 2000. They held some 800 patients and staff hostage, demanding an end to the shelling of Karen border positions and medical treatment for their fellow soldiers injured in battles against the Burmese army. Leading a group of no more than 20 rebels, the Htoo twins surrendered to Thai soldiers and requested sanctuary. They also demanded Thailand open its border to hundreds of the Karen people. After 22 hours, Thai forces assaulted the hospital and killed all 10 of the insurgents.

Surrender

Luther Htoo was interviewed in the midst of the jungle three months later. He restated God’s Army’s desire for Karen (Kayin) freedom. It seems he and the rest of the guerillas were relentlessly pursued by the Burmese army and had begun to be shunned by other Karen rebel forces. Eight months later, leading a group of no more than 20 rebels, the Htoo twins surrendered to Thai soldiers and requested sanctuary.

On a positive note, a ceasefire between Myanmar’s military and the Karen Nation Liberation Army began in January of 2012; the ceasefire held as talks began. Tensions remain high. The country can only hope for and continue to work toward a future wherein there is no further calling for child heroes with superpowers.


For more on the weird and wonderful in Myanmar, check out the full list of blogs here.

What do the travelers say?

SPano, United States
March 09, 2013
While I believe conflict should not be glorified, this is a crazy story! Legend has it they are the two youngest military commanders in history. Most recent accounts say the brothers are split up with one in a refugee camp in Thailand and one has surrendered in Burma.
Dreamer, Switzerland
March 11, 2013
Its also an example of how tough these people really are. Just look at the size of the country, its the largest country in mainland south east asia, there's a reason they were able to defend and maintain borders of that size against powerful neighbours china, siam (thailand) etc.

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