This exclusive report has been gathered by Anthony C. LoBaido,
WorldNetDaily’s international correspondent, reporting from Thailand,
Mainland China and the malarial and landmine-infested jungles of
By Anthony C. LoBaido
? 2000, WorldNetDaily.com
AT THE BURMA-THAILAND BORDER — “Are you ready for some soccer?”
called out the Thai Special Forces colonel to his Burmese counterparts,
resting in bamboo huts across a wide, neatly manicured green field. With
the two nations sharing a 2,400-kilometer border, many such
border-sharing arrangements are commonplace.
However, this particular border outpost stands out, and for a dark
and unsettling reason. Stapled to numerous fences and poles near the
border are pictures of Johnny and Luther Htoo, the 12-year-old twin
leaders of God’s Army. Scribbled over their faces, written in English,
are nasty epithets, including “I’ll see you in hell, Johnny” and “You’re
a Dead Man.”
Young Karen rebel stands guard holding machine gun
After a spirited, painfully low-scoring soccer game conducted between
the Burmese and Thai border troops, the officers from the two respective
armies meet for dinner in a Thai mess hall. They discuss various issues,
such as the threat of landmines, status of Thai elephants, various
Burmese drug warlords and their respective armies, and the Burmese
Money is another touchy subject. It is well known that both the Thai
and Burmese military, along with opportunistic businessmen, make a
fortune in trading teak wood, gems and even the drugs widely available
in the region. And typical of other raging border wars, a large influx
of Burmese refugees numbering in the hundreds of thousands has flooded
in Thailand, offering cheap labor to the depressed Thai economy.
But mainly, these days the officers discuss exactly what should be
done about the notorious group called “God’s Army.”
Who are the Karen?
Known primarily to Americans via the Hollywood film “Beyond
Rangoon,” the Karen have in fact been fighting against successive
communist, Marxist and now fascist Burmese governments since 1949.
Previously, the Karen had fought valiantly against the brutal
Japanese invaders, standing alongside the British colonialist rulers
during World War II. It was the Japanese who constructed the infamous
“Burma Railway,” immortalized by another Hollywood film, “The Bridge on
the River Kwai.”
Burma is perhaps best known for the famous “Burma Road” constructed
during World War II to arm anti-Japanese Chinese soldiers fighting in
Singkiang Province in southwest China. Built with hand tools in 11
months by Chinese coolies, the road brought Western arms into China from
British India. (Note: This reporter’s uncle, Joseph DeAngelo, drove
one of the very first tanks from India, through Burma and into Free
China on the Burma Road.)
The word Burma is a mispronunciation of the word “Bama,” one of the
tribal people of the region. As such, the nation has recast itself as
Myanmar, which is the Burmese term encompassing all of the various
ethnic and tribal peoples which live within its vast 676,000 square
kilometers of land.
“The Karen account for only 7 percent of Burma’s 47 million
citizens,” said Sister Regina de los Santos, a Catholic nun who works
closely with the Karen, and specifically with God’s Army.
As Sister Regina explained to WorldNetDaily, the main rebel group in
Burma, the Karen National Union or KNU, is led by 73-year-old Ba Thin.
Educated by Baptist missionaries, he joined KNU from its humble
According to a Western military attache in Rangoon, the Karen
National Union was, during the late ’80s and early ’90s, able to hire
foreign mercenaries through the utilization of an abundance of funds
from the sale of gems and teak wood.
“The Karen are anti-drug. God knows why. There is billions in drug
money to be made along the Burmese-Thai border,” the attache told WND.
Two Karen girls near the Thai border
However, in the late 1980s, the Burmese junta made peace with most,
if not all, of the rebel hill tribes. Today, only God’s Army is left in
the bush — along with the Wa State Drug army.
The largest, best-armed and richest drug army on the planet, the
United Wa State Army, or UWSA, is composed of former members of the
Burmese Communist Party who evidently found drugs far more lucrative
than advancing Marxist ideology.
As reported in “The land of child warriors” in today’s WorldNetDaily, the United Wa State Army is a
quasi-government unto itself, controlling vast border areas of Burma and
hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars in cash. Laundering its
drug money in various South Pacific islands, the UWSA even conducts
refugee resettlement plants, poppy crop substitution and public
relations campaigns — even holding an open “media day” recently,
attended by WorldNetDaily.
In the early 1990s, the Burmese junta deployed troops into Karen-held lands
on behalf of British consortium Premier Oil. The aim of this military
operation was to wipe out the Christian Karen, not only because they were
living on valuable drug fields — while refusing to engage in the trillion
dollar Golden Triangle drug trade — but because Premier Oil needed those
lands for a natural-gas pipeline.
As such, the systematic genocide of the Karen reached over 30,000 killed,
with another 100,000 driven into refugee camps in Western Thailand.
Divide and conquer
Even within the Karen, there is a split between the Buddhist Karen
and Christian Karen, who today lead God’s Army. The pro-junta Democratic
Karen Buddhist Army is nothing less than a “terrorist group,” according
to the gutsy and fearless Sister Regina, which “raids Karen refugee
camps inside Thailand on behalf of junta.”
In contrast, the Christian faction opposing the junta, the Karen
National Union, today has only 4,000 troops left, down from 20,000. Most
of them are young teenagers. Finally, the United Wa State Army has
20,000 highly-trained and motivated fighters — “more money than God,”
says Sister Regina.
For its part, the anticommunist Thai military had been helpful to
Karen National Union until late 1988, when it shifted its stance and
began to aid the Burmese junta. This radical change coincided with the
departure of top anti-communist leaders like Reagan, Thatcher and P.W.
Botha in the West. Soon after, the terrorist Democratic Karen Buddhist
Army, fighting alongside Burmese junta troops, captured the Karen
National Union’s stronghold of Manerplaw.
Again with Thai military assistance, in 1997 the junta took over the
KNU’s 4th Brigade at the Minthamee camp, an occupation that drove
thousands of Karen refugees out of Burma and into Thailand.
Ever since then, the Karen National Union and God’s Army have been on
the defensive — simultaneously fighting a desperate battle against the
DKBA, the ruling junta and its high-priced foreign mercenaries, the
United Wa State Army, and the Thai military.
“Seeing the Thai military betray the Christian Karen has been a
terrible blow to God’s Army,” said Sister Regina. “It has driven God’s
Army to desperation.”
For his part, KNU leader Ba Thin says that he wants to heal the split
between God’s Army and the Buddhist DKBA.
“After that, we can make peace with junta, but we will never give up
our arms,” he told WorldNetDaily. The ruling Burmese junta has allowed
most of the hill tribes to keep their weapons as a confidence-building
Child twins lead God’s Army
Far beyond the cozy soccer fields at the Burmese-Thai border lays
the Burmese jungle hideaway of Ka Mar Pa Law. The town serves as the
gateway to God’s Army’s rebel base at Kersay Doh — “God’s Mountain.”
The scene is a hybrid of “Children of the Corn,” “Apocalypse Now” and
“The Lord of the Flies.” Surrounded by layers of landmines (WND has
observed many such sites in Korea, Angola and Cambodia in recent
months), 200 of God’s Army rebels live in this tight-knit community.
The soldiers, mostly in their teens, engage in daring hit-and-run
attacks on Burmese junta army outposts and patrol units. Their twin
leaders: 12-year-old Johnny and Luther Htoo. The two moody boys,
alternately serious and playful, and who claim they “have never cried,”
are Southern Baptists. They smoke cheroots non-stop and liberally quote
from the Old Testament, mixing Christianity, says Sister Regina, with
animism — the “Golden Book” of old Burmese gods, which speaks liberally
of “messiahs to come.”
Though there are over 300,000 children currently engaged in wars
around the world, no two can match the status of Johnny and Luther Htoo.
They tell their subordinates when to eat and when to fight. The twins
also have adult aides and bodyguards. The boys have black tongues,
considered by the Karen to be a sign of divinity.
Johnny and Luther Htoo, 12-year-old leaders of “God’s Army”
Reporters wishing to visit God’s Mountain are carefully pre-screened
in Thailand. After a long jungle trek of many hours, a meeting is then
arranged with the twins.
As Christian believers in an overwhelmingly Buddhist country, the
twins confront other tough odds as well. Their followers told
WorldNetDaily the twins are “unbeaten in battle, immune to gunfire and
can disarm landmines with their thoughts.”
“God sent these two leaders to rescue all the Karen,” said Su Bia, a
veteran of God’s Army. “Those who do not listen to the leaders will not
be protected when they go out to the front lines.”
The twins, part of Burma’s “Lost Generation” of the August 8, 1988
(or “8-8-88”) uprising say they will fight Nobel Prize Winner Aung
San Suu Kyi‘ if and when she comes to
power, as she is “not Burmese enough. Suu Kyi’s late husband was an
English, white man,” said Johnny Htoo.
“All that the Burmese dissidents have done after 8-8-88 is talk. For
us, the talk is over. We just wanted to show the Burmese junta what we
can do. I think we have achieved that,” Johnny Htoo told Western
God’s Army on the offensive
The activities of God’s Army in recent times have been anything but
On October 1, 1999, God’s Army’s sister group, the Vigorous Burmese
Student Warriors, took over the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok. Fearing
foreign casualties, the Thai government let the hostage-takers go, even
flying them via helicopter back to their rebel base in Burma.
The embassy siege was only a precursor, however, to the bloody
January 24 takeover of the Ratchaburi Regional Hospital in western
On that date, God’s Army took over 200 Thai hostages at the hospital,
asking that the Thai military stop shelling innocent Karen citizens
inside the Burmese border — shelling the Thais engaged in due to
demands of the Burmese junta. Their other demands were that unarmed
refugees be allowed to cross the border for medical treatment, that
Thailand stop aiding Burma’s campaign against their movement, and that
Thailand provide medical care for wounded soldiers.
On the next day, January 25 — ironically, “Armed Forces Day” in
Thailand — Thai commandos stormed the scene. At least seven explosions
rocked the compound as six truckloads of commandos rushed into the
After securing the scene, the Thai military then stripped the hostage
takers, tied their hands behind their backs and summarily executed them
one by one.
“They were shot in the head after they had been told to undress and
kneel down,” one official was later quoted as saying.
Although the Bangkok Post editorialized that the hostage takers
deserved death “since they’ve brought much trauma and suffering to the
Thai people,” the Post also quoted the hostages as confirming that their
captors had been shot in cold blood.
In fact, several of the hostages interviewed by WorldNetDaily
apparently suffered from “Stockholm Syndrome,” sympathizing and
identifying with their attackers.
“The men from God’s Army were kind, handsome, polite to the elderly.
They let a surgeon complete a brain operation on a young boy,” said one
Thai nurse who asked that her name not be used. “I saw them executed.”
“I support our government, but the men from God’s Army immediately
surrendered. I think it was a mistake to shoot them.”
For their part, Thai authorities, still smarting from their bungled
handling of the October 1999 embassy siege, and fearful of security for
the upcoming United Nations Conference on Trade and Development to be
held shortly in Bangkok, engaged in a cover-up of grand proportions.
First they denied the summary executions. Then they displayed the
bodies to the media — the same media the Thai military had lured into a
conference room and locked up shortly before the commando raid on the
Top police officials, when questioned as to whether the hostage
takers had indeed been summarily executed, said they had died fighting.
However, the Khao Sod newspaper published photos of five of the men
taken before they were shrouded. The bloody corpses were stripped to
The bodies of the dead members of God’s Army were hurriedly interred
at a nearby temple. Later, their fingerprints were stolen.
As of this report, the world still awaits an autopsy, which may be
blocked under Thailand’s Anti-communism Act, as well as release of the
identities of the hostage takers.
Johnny and Luther Htoo are not among them. The men killed are all
aged between 15 and 30 years.
Thus far, the major names put forward include “Beda,” also known as
“Preeda” or “Nui,” the leader of the group, as well as Ye Thi Ha, a
former Burmese student who hijacked a Union of Burma Airways flight
originating in Burma on October 18, 1989, and the leader of the embassy
siege of October 1999.
Meanwhile, the European Union has complained that Thailand’s handling
of the hostage crisis might hurt its international standing. Responding
to the criticism, Thai authorities are planning to re-enact the raid and
explain to the greater journalistic community that they were “locked
away for their own safety” during the raid.
Chuan Leekpai, Thailand’s prime minister, defends his government’s
handling of the hospital siege.
“It was either them or us,” he said shortly after the raid. “Had our
men been killed, I would have been asked why I had let them die. We
needed to think about the safety of the [Thai] commando force.”
For the Karen wondering about the state of their future, both in
Thailand and Burma, there is only confusion and sadness over the actions
of God’s Army.
“As Karen, we feel shy about violence that happened at the Ratchaburi
hospital. As Karen, our nature is to live quietly, avoid aggressiveness.
As Karen, we want peace and believe in non-violence,” said Hto Lwee Po,
a Karen known as Little Dove.
“What the Burmese regime is presently doing to the Karen people
amounts to genocide, yet little attention has been given by the
international community to this crucial issue,” says Lord David Alton,
a member of the British House of Lords, who has been on the Thai-Burma
border visiting refugee camps and Karen military bases on behalf of the
British human rights group Jubilee Campaign.
“Atrocities by Burmese soldiers have driven about ninety-five
thousand Karen across into Thailand where they seek refuge. Over ten
thousand Karen men, women and children are currently hiding in the
jungle in Burma, on the run from the Burmese army who will not hesitate
to shoot them on sight,” laments Alton. “Karen villages in eastern Burma
are being systematically destroyed by the Burmese army and those who do
not flee are massacred or forced into slave labor. …”
Says Sister Regina, “The real threat to Thailand is not the Karen,
but the Wa and Kokang ethnic groups which flood the nation with drugs.”
“God’s children don’t need guns. Certainly they don’t need drugs
either. When will the world wake up and enforce peace inside of Burma?
How many more children have to die?”
Having searched for Johnny and Luther Htoo from the Thailand border,
to Mainland China, to the Burmese jungle and the border of India, this
reporter can only echo the sentiments scribbled across Johnny’s face on
one of the posters stapled near the Thai-Burma soccer field outpost.
“Hey Johnny and Luther, we’ll see you in the next life.”
Editor’s note: At last report, Johnny and Luther Htoo made it
safely to India. They are on the run, fearing not only the Burmese
junta, Buddhist Karen, UWSA, foreign mercenaries and Thai military, but
also a largely hostile news media.