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THE ADVERTISER, 29-JAN-2000(Local South Australian Newspaper)



The world was shocked this week when a terrorist group led by
12-year-old twin boy seized 500 hostages at a Thailand hospital. Richard
Shears reports on their rise to power.

At the jungle base of God's Army, no one question Luther and Johnny
Htoo;s leadership. No matter that the 12-year-old twins, tongues tinged
with black, are shorter than the M-16 rifles they and their followers

The fighters who have rallied behind them believe the brothers offer
them divine protection in a children's crusade that blends elements of
the Old Testament and Lord of the Flies.

An offshoot of the ethnic Karen guerilla movement nearly eradicated in a
brutal government offensive tow years ago, God's army is made up of
about 100 battle-hardened veteran fighters, former university students
and children.

But the cheroot-smooking Htoo twins are unlike most of the estimated
300,000 child combatants in conflicts around the Third World.

They rule their unit, which operates from Ka Mar Pa Law, a village base
in the malarial jungle near the border with Thailand. They tell their
followers when to fight, what to eat, how to behave. Their leadership is
never challenged.

The boys share a mosquito-ridden, grass roofed hut, where they are
waited on hand and foot by teenage and adult members of God's army.Both
have black-tinged tongues, which by ethnic Karen and Mon tradition is
taken as  a sign of divinity. Adored in the same way as Buddhism's boy
lamas, the twins have far greater power.

For they are highly skilled in jungle warfare and know their M-16 and
AK-47 rifles inside out.

They can move so silently through the jungle that even the birds do not
know they are there.

Guarded in their jungle camp by young admirers, the 12-year-olds think
and act as one. Their disciples see the boys as indestructible
messengers of god himself.

Like most Karens, God's Army are Christians in a predominantly Buddhist

The twins are from a family with a fundamentalist Christian bent.

They do not allow fighting, swearing, drugs or alcohol. Their power
dates from 1997, when Burma-- now run by a ruthless military regime who
called it Myanmar-- all but crushed the Karen National Union.

According to refugee accounts, government forces killed men in front of
their families, raped women and torched villages.

When the army came to Johnny and Luther's village, the story goes,
guerilla fighters fled, leaving it unprotected. But the twins, then only
10, rallied the remaining men and children in the village and directed a
successful counter-attack.

News of their amazing triumph swept the Burmese countryside.

Ever since, the twins have been deemend to have powers from God.

Within weeks, scores of  volunteers made their way to the boys' village
to join the ragtag force that was quickly dubbed God's Army. An official
spokesman said the Rangoon Government considered God's Army a group
created by the Karen National Union to carry out terrorist activities
against Burma.

Surrounded by adult aides and a bodyguard of rifle-toting children, the
twins speak little to outsiders. Johnny, chubby-cheeked and shy, seems
the more childlike of the two. He readily lays aside his gun to bounce a
volleyball. Luther, who moods sing quickly between cocky and sullen, has
a disturbing stare.

"I have never cried," he told a reporter recently. "Why would a man cry

While many in God's Army are children, others are toughKaren National
Union veterans or members of the dissident student group. Their small
following receives arms from the KarenNational Union but operates
independently from them.

Because the twins' unbeaten record and alleged powers their followers
believe they are immune to gunfire, it has high morale and now attracts
hardcore guerilla fighters.

"God sent these two leaders to rescue all the Karens," said Su Bia, a
veteran fighter who has joined the ranks of God's Army.

He told how he lost six siblings in the 1997 fighting.

"Those who do not listen to the leaders will not be protected when they
go out on the frontline," he said.

The twins' parents live nearby and the boys profess love for them,
though they seem to have little contact.

"We know from the day they were born they would be specail", their
father, Pu Kaw, said. "We had a vision that they would be pure,
extraordinary people."

**Johnny and Luther Htoo were last night reported to be on the run after
their headquarters was overrun by government forces. They were
apparently headed for Karjom mountain, near Ka Mar Pa Law.

Correspondents in RAgchaburi

TEN followers of twin 12-year-old mystical guerilla leaders were killed
yesterday when a pre-dawn raid by Thai commandos dramatically ended a
24-hour hospital siege.

The assault freed unharmed the more than 500 hospital staff and patients
held hostage by the Burmese rebels.

Power explosions rocked the hospital compound before dawn, local time,
hearalding the rescue operation by Thai police and army special forces.

The assault was launched after a night of intense negotiations with the
rebels, members God's Army and an ethnic Karen group led by the twins,
bitter enemies of Burma's military rulers.

Ambulances and police vans were seen bringing out hostages, many of whom
appeared badly shaken, while 30 police commandos involved in the assault
were applauded by nurses and onlookers as they marched out of the
hospital in formation.

Before the raid the gunmen released about 100 people, including an eight
year old boy who had just undergone brain surgery.

After they were led away from the hospital many rescued hostages said
they believed their captors had meant them no harm. "The hostage takers
took good care of us. There was no harm or threats. They were polite. I
was not afraid at all because I knew I would survive," male theaters
nurse Dechachai Klingtong said.

Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, however, had little sympathy for the
gunmen. "It's not right to do something like seize a hospital," he said.

In the two weeks ahead of the hospital seizure, twins Luther and Johnny
Htoo's Christian God's Army, with up to 200 member , had been in a
desperate struggle for survival at its jungle base at Kamaplaw, just
inside Burma. The base became a target for repeated Burmese government
attacks, supported by Thai artillery, when five Burmese dissidents took
refuge there after taking over the Burmese embassy in Bangkok for 25
hours last October. The guerillas who attacked the Ratchaburi provincial
hospital demanded that doctors treat their wounded that Thailand end its
backing of the Burmese government attacks.

It was not known whether the twins were involved in the attack or were
among the 10 guerillas killed.

The cheroot-smoking twins, who could have stepped straight from the
pages of William golding's Lord of the Flies, hold the rank of colonel.

Both have black tongues, which by ethnic Karen and Mon tradition is
taken as a sign of divinity. Their followers believe they have been sent
to save the Karen movement, all but wiped out  by Burmese offensives in

Those who have met them say they exercise command with stern hand,
banning drugs, swearing and alcohol. Followers say they possess mystical
powers, making them immune in battle.

God's Army followers have pledged to fight to the death to install
democracy in Burma.
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