Wed, Nov 06, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Myanmar’s ‘God’s Army’ twins reunite, seek comrades

The brothers who fought against Burmese soldiers lead different lives in Thailand and Sweden and are hoping to be able to see their family in New Zealand and learn about their former comrades

By Thanyarat Doksone  /  AP, SANGKHLABURI, Thailand

Johnny eventually settled down to work as a rice farmer, but returned less than a year ago to the refugee camp in Thailand where he had stayed with Luther. He was shy during the interview and inclined to defer to his brother.

Before departing Thailand last month, Luther tried to learn more about what happened to dozens of his comrades who disappeared after surrendering.

“Their wives and children have been waiting,” he said. “It’s been 13 years. I think all of them are dead.”

They may have been victims of a calamitous turn in God’s Army’s fortunes that came after it became enmeshed with an even more fringe Myanmar antigovernment group.

The so-called Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors seized the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok in 1999. After a short siege, Thai officials arranged a getaway by helicopter for them to the Myanmar border area where God’s Army was based.

Johnny and Luther took them in. However, the student warriors were targets of two countries, Myanmar and Thailand, which lost face from the embassy takeover despite resolving it peacefully.

Reportedly, Thailand began shelling the twins’ village to help corner the embassy raiders.

Shambles turned to disaster when the student warriors and some God’s Army members crossed back into Thailand and seized a provincial hospital in Ratchaburi in 2000.

By Luther’s account, the student warriors and some members of God’s Army went to the hospital to ask for medicine and doctors to help people wounded by the shelling.

He did not explain why they went armed.

In the end, no hostages at the hospital were hurt, but all 10 attackers were shot dead by Thai authorities — some after surrendering, according to witnesses.

God’s Army quickly fell, and the boys surrendered at their village. They were treated well, but their comrades, who lacked the shield of international publicity, may not have been.

“They were separated into groups of men, women and children. The Thai soldiers took 55 men with them and said they would be brought to work for the soldiers,” Luther told members of the Lawyers Council of Thailand as he sought their advice on tracking down the men. “Since that day, no one ever saw them again.”

Luther and Johnny stayed together at a refugee camp in Thailand, but later became separated. I

n 2006, Myanmar state television reported that Johnny and eight of his God’s Army comrades had turned themselves in because “they could not put up with the bullying of fellow rebels” and realized “the goodwill of the government.”

Luther said the truth is that Johnny was lured back to Myanmar by false promises of work. A “surrender” was staged for TV, he said, with uniforms and a handover of weapons that did not belong to them.

Now Luther is helping Johnny seek ways to stay with their mother and sister, who now live in New Zealand.

“But I will have talk to a lot of people to make that happen,” Luther said.

Their father lives in another Thai refugee camp.

The interview marked the last time Luther and Johnny would see each other before Luther returned to Sweden. As the brothers parted, Johnny’s eyes appeared to well with tears.

“C’mon, real men don’t cry,” Luther told his brother.

He promised to return to see him next year.

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