Daddy Htoo

The Teen Twin Rebels Grow Up

The Nation (Bangkok), May 27, 2004

Godís Army twin now a father
Published on May 26, 2004

God's Army twin Luther Htoo has found love and music after putting down his gun.

One of the teenage leaders of a rag-tag rebel group, which drew international attention several years ago, Luther has a new life and family in a refugee camp near the Burmese border.

He has given up taking up arms and wants to study music and raise his six-month-old son, he said yesterday.

Luther, now 16, said he had married a 19-year-old Karen woman named Paw and they had a child together.

The couple met at the refugee camp in Tambon Nong Lu, Sangkhla Buri district, where they now live, about a year after Luther and his brother Johnny surrendered to the Thai Army - along with 16 other members of their group - several years ago.

"Before I didn't worry much about family, but now I've a son and want to get a job to get money to raise my family," Luther said.

Unfortunately, refugees in the camp are not allowed to work, so Luther spent time initially learning Thai. But his teacher later married and did not return.

Luther, who still smokes but has cut down for the sake of his wife and family, said he and Johnny spent most of their leisure time playing the guitar. Luther dreams of getting a scholarship to study music so he can become a musician, sell records and earn money to raise his son, So Thor.

"In my life, if I don't hold guns, I'll hold a guitar," he said.

His twin brother Johnny said: "The difference between taking up arms and holding a guitar is that when you hold arms you are a warrior ready to die for your nation, but with a guitar you feel good playing it."

However, the guitar could not save his brothers, he added.

Johnny said he did not want to start a family yet because every day he still thinks of other God's Army members. And news of people tortured, robbed, raped or killed by Burmese troops makes him feel terrible because he cannot do anything to help save them.

Life as a rebel was not easy. Sometimes they had to live on bananas and water, but they saw it as their duty to pick up arms to protect themselves, their families and the Karen people.

"Although life was tough, we were very proud," Luther said.

On the other hand, living a simple life in a refugee camp along with their family is warmer and more comfortable and they have no worries about what to eat because they can grow vegetables and fruit for food. But there is less freedom to get around and the future is still uncertain, they added.

"Life is the camp is more secure but I don't feel comfortable," Johnny said. "If I could, I would exchange a comfortable life here and die for the peace of Karen nation."

His left hand is tattooed with dark green Karen words that say, "A child was born from his mother's womb with blood and when he dies he will go with blood."

The God's Army came into being after the larger Karen National Union, which had stubbornly resisted Rangoon for decades, was driven out of the area opposite Ratchaburi's Suan Phung district by a massive Burmese offensive in 1997.

The twins and others - mostly children - turned themselves over to the Thai Army after their stronghold, Karmaplaw, was overrun by Burmese troops. The boys were reunited with their parents at a camp on the Thai-Burmese border.

In total, more than 100,000 displaced Burmese - mostly ethnic Karens - are sheltered in the border camps.

Punnee Amornviputpanich
The Nation

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