From: E. Phillip Lim <webxity@CYBERWAY.COM.SG>
To: SEASIA-L@LIST.MSU.EDU <SEASIA-L@LIST.MSU.EDU>
Subject: MM + TH: Is the news media making too much of Karen twins, Johnny and Luther?
Date: Friday, April 28, 2000 2:51 AM
Is the news media making too much of Karen twins, Johnny and Luther?
The Straits Times Interactive
11 April 2000
This boy insurgent just needs a big hug
Pictures of the child leaders of the Karen ethnic
insurgency, God's Army have been splashed around
the world. Tales of their apparent mystical powers
have been told. In a first-time interview with the
press since the January hospital raid, one of the
12-year-old twins, Luther Htoo, met an American
journalist and spoke with The New York Times via
SUAN PHUM (Thailand) -- Numerous legends and myths
surround the 12-year-old twins who lead the God's
Army. Between them, the twins say, they command
400,000 invisible soldiers.
If anybody shoots at them, the bullets just bounce
off. And they can kill their enemies simply by
pointing a rifle at the ground and concentrating
These might be the fantasies of a million
schoolboys. But they are the beliefs that have led
grown men into battle -- the legends that surround
two child warriors who lead a ragged ethnic
insurgency called God's Army, just across the
border from Thailand in Myanmar.
Last week, one of the twins, Luther Htoo, left his
mountain hideout with 15 of his soldiers to the
hills along the border for his first interview
since God's Army carried out a suicidal raid on a
Thai hospital in January.
In a satellite telephone interview with The New
York Times, he came across as a fidgety child with
a childish voice who constantly turned to his
followers for answers, asking them,"What should I
Some of these answers were: He wants freedom for
his people, the Karen minority. He is invulnerable
to land mines and bullets. His favourite toys are
real guns and ammunition. And he misses his
On videotape he seemed more like a spoiled mascot
than a general: He was carried through the woods
on the shoulders of his men handed a lighted
cheroot whenever he murmured, "I want a smoke,"
and tolerated benignly as he climbs in and out of
the laps of the men he commands.
Clad in a camouflage fatigue shirt with a "US
Army" patch, a "Love" tattoo on his arm, and a new
short haircut, he turned away from time to time to
double over in a wrenching smoker's cough. He
seemed the unlikely leader of a separatist
Although Luther and his brother, Johnny, did not
join the January raid, in which all 10 gunmen were
shot dead after taking hostage of a hospital in
the town of Ratchaburi, the twins became the
objects of widespread curiosity abroad.
Now they are also wanted by the Myanmar military
and shunned by other Karen rebels.
Like some other movements of this kind, God's Army
lives by ascetic rules.
Alcohol, drugs and adultery are banned, along with
milk, eggs and pork. Many Karens are Christian,
and the twins are said to know the Bible by heart,
although they have never studied it. Johnny was
born first and goes everywhere first, according to
a 45-year-old guerilla, even though Luther is
regarded as having greater divine powers because
he apparently has 250,000 invisible heavenly
soldiers while Johnny has 150,000.
But Johnny commands more of the everyday kind of
soldier. According to the guerilla, he has about
100 fighters protecting about 300 civilian
followers, apparently including the boys' parents.
Luther has about 30 fighters, although in the
interview he had to ask a subordinate for the
The boys' parents are simple farmers without
magical powers, the guerilla said.
When the boys became leaders, their father put
down his hoe and took up a gun to follow them.
In their Thursday meeting with Mr Jason Bleibtreu,
an American photographer and video cameraman, the
guerillas -- both boys and men -- had carried an
assortment of M-16 and AK-47 rifles and grenade
They wore fatigues, shorts and a Donald Duck
T-shirt along with black head scarves and rubber
sandals. Some were barefoot.
Jason Bleibtreu said the soldiers seemed to treat
the boy with a mixture of deference and patient
"They wouldn't allow him to act upon all of his
whims," he said. "Sometimes he would want to ride
on someone's shoulders. He would motion, lift me
up, lift me up, and they would talk him out of
There seemed to be nothing extraordinary about
this 12-year-old, apart perhaps from his
"What struck me most was he seemed to want
attention, emotional contact," Mr Bleibtreu said.
"He wanted more hugs from his mother. He would sit
down with me and put his hand on my shoulder. I
got the feeling he wanted me to hug him.
"He would jump from soldier to soldier to their
laps. The other boys weren't doing this. I felt
sad, as a father: jeez, this kid wants a hug." --
New York Times
The Twins: The stuff of myths and legends
ONE of their followers, a 45-year-old guerilla,
disclosed some of the myths that have built up
around the Htoo twins deep in their jungle
Using the Karen term "bu," or "little brother," he
referred to Luther as Bu Lu and to Johnny as Bu
"Once, when Bu Joh was bathing in a stream, he
shouted to everybody, 'Look at me!' and he jumped
into the water," said the anonymous guerrilla.
"When he came out he was an old man with long
white hair and a white beard. All the soldiers
were afraid, but he said, 'Don't be afraid: I'm Bu
Joh! If you don't believe me, I'll change back.'
And he jumped back into the water and came out as
a boy again. I didn't see this myself, but more
than 100 soldiers did see it."
In another incident that the guerilla said he did
witness, Luther gave each fighter three magic
bullets but admonished them to save them for
One doubter disobeyed and shot one of the bullets
at a tree. When he checked the tree, there were 10
bullet holes. "After that, he believed," the
In a third incident, Luther sent his men into
battle but remained where he was, pointing his
rifle silently at the ground. Afterwards he asked
how many of the enemy had been killed. Twenty, he
was told. He then held up his rifle; exactly 20
bullets had disappeared from its magazine. -- New
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