Rise and fall of God’s Army, a much-feared fighting force with foreign sponsors
After almost three years of armed resistance against the SPDC the exhausted, malnourished and desperate remnants of God’s Army had no choice but to merge with the 4th brigade of the KNLA. The group consisted of 22 young soldiers who gave up in October 2000, including the legendary teenage twin leaders, Johnny and Luther Htoo. Johnny is currently the 4th brigade headquarters while Luther is staying with his mother and father at Htam Hin camp near Takolan village in Ratchaburi province.
All God’s Army soldiers who surrendered are receiving all necessary assistance from the 4th brigade of the KNLA. They will be gradually be incorporated into the KNLA structure and participate in operations against the SPDC. Only a small group of eight soldiers led by Dah Moo refused to join with the KNLA.
God’s Army was officially formedon March 7, 1997 at Htaw Ma Pyo, after more than 200 deeply religious Karen Christian families abandoned the villages they had lived in for centuries and fled to Thailand in February in terror of the SPDC.
The twin brothers, who were eight at the time, said they had a vision from the God commanding them to lead their people against the SPDC. Both had seen with their own eyes the abuses committed by advancing SPDC soldiers against their people and couldn’t let it go on.
The formation of God’s Army was discussed with a high ranking official of the KNU South, who promised to assist them in every possible way. The KNU-South fell guilty because they couldn’t protect the religious
Karen families from the SPDC.
God’s Army proved to be a formidable force from the beginning and their remarkable battlefield victories against the SPDC made them famous and feared. They engaged on average ten battles a week with SPDC troops in 1997-1998, inflicting heavy casualties. In one battle they killed 23 enemy soldiers and injured dozens without losing a single man. This phenomenal success led the Karen people to believe the twin brothers possessed supernatural powers. In reality, the early successes against the SPDC can be attributed to their determination, bravery and knowledge of the terrain.
As word spread around the world, financial aid started to come, especially from South Korean and Japanese contributors. The Koreans gave money to build a church for the God’s Army at Takolan near Suan Phung where most God’s Army relatives lived for years.
A leader of the KSO apparently with the connection to one Western intelligence age guided 12 VBSW to Takolan in June 1999. He handled them to Saw Toe Toe, founding God’s Army member and KSO.
The VBSW took full advantage of the innocence and naivety of God’s Army, convincing them they would be better off by joining in their future operations. Unfortunately, God’s Army swallowed the bait because of some greedy people among them who controlled Johnny Htoo and Luther. Instead of focusing their military efforts against the SPDC, the VBSW attacked two targets inside Thailand: The Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok and the Ratchaburi hospital.
God’s Army blindly participated in both events, with catastrophic consequences for both groups because they had made Thailand a second enemy.
Because of disagreements within the God’s Army leadership, the actingcommander Shwe Bya left in March 2000 and formed the Democratic God’s Army (DGA). He was joined by close associate Kyaw Ni who played a major part in the seizure of the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok. Instead of fighting the SPDC, the DGA concentrated to make money by kidnappings and extortion.
Around 418 God’s Army soldiers and relatives crossed into Thailand from Myanmar on February 2-3, 2000, after the SPDC mounted an offensive against them. Almost all of them ended up at a refugee camp in Thailand, although a lucky few, including God’s Army founder Saw Toe Toe and his family, were granted refugee status in the United States.
After the Ratchaburi hospital sealed as all sponsors abandoned them, including the 4th brigade of the KNLA who had tried desperately to convince their leaders and the twins not to believe VBSW promises. In the middle of 2000, the 4th brigade of the KNLA decided to give a humanitarian food aid to suffering God’s Army soldiers and again offering the chance to join the KNLA.
A wealthy high ranking KNLA officer from the southern part of Burma who was dismissed by the KNU in September 2000 for a breach of discipline was able to persuaded eight former God’s Army soldiers led by Dah Moo to join with him on December 8.
The officer, backed by a group of his loyalists, soon recruited another bunch of 22 God’s Army soldiers with promises of food, clothes and weapons. However, the aim of the newly form armed group wasn’t to fight the SPDC but to protect their own business interests in an area of rich natural resources. Before the group could get any bigger, Thai authorities acted swiftly and arrested 18 soldiers when they arrived on December 21 at Takolan village to celebrate Christmas.
My first encounter with the spiritual leaders of the Karen God’s Army Johnny Htoo and Luther was at Takolan in February 1999, when the untidy about eleven-year-old cheroot smoking twins were brought in the arms of escorts who worshipped them because of their alleged magical powers. Takolan was then a busy place, with many long-haired God’s Army youngsters walking around in green camouflaged outfits or playing soccer and other games next to a church. built with money donated by a Korean religious group also apparently connected to the Western intelligence agency who “admired” their war efforts against the Myanmar government. In September 1999, I met about 20 members of the Korean “missionaries” group both men and women who became frequent visitors to Suan Phung where they were meeting with one Karen Pastor who was trying to gain a control over the God’s Army but failed because the twins didn’t like him.
During an interview, some of the “missionaries” admitted being former members of the South Korean security service. A young and well built man said that he was in the past attached to the South Korean presidential security detachment. The Koreans were allegedly a proxy of one Western security service.
During my first visit arranged by the KNU, Luther had a badly infected eye caused by a spark from a fire that had flown into his left eye sometime before. It took my guide, Saw Thai Thi, a long time to convince the unfriendly handler of the twins to seek proper medical treatment.
I drove the handler and the twins to the local hospital, where the doctor said Luther would lose his eye if not properly treated. I made arrangements with Saw Thaw Thi to ensure that the handler keeps further appointments with the doctor, and I became friends with the twins.
The government tried desperately to disarm God’s Army offering them a various peaceful incentives. One was the purchase of a large amount of rice I bought in Suan Phung which was delivered to Takolan by a pickup. I also bought and delivered medical supplies to Takolan a few times.
The supplies included bandages, antibiotics and intravenous fluids. The Thai authorities also offered the twins scooters to stop their armed struggle. I was assigned to show them a brochure with the scooters. Both liked the idea very much but circumstances prevented it from materializing.
The Karen man who brought the Warriors to Takolan and who played a major role in the seizure of the Burmese embassy was shipped to the United States as was his good friend Saw Toe Toe. They were apparently allowed to take their families with them as well.