SANGKHLA BURI – When they were children, Johnny and Luther Htoo were bulletproof and invulnerable to landmines – or so went the story that briefly made them famous as hundreds of guerrillas followed them in the south-eastern jungles of Myanmar.
Today, over a decade later, their ”God’s Army” is no more, and the twins’ greatest accomplishment may be that both are still alive.Johnny, left, and his twin brother Luther Htoo pose for photos after their reunion at a restaurant in Sangkhlaburi district of Kanchanaburi province, western Thailand.
Luther lives in Sweden. Johnny remains at an unofficial refugee camp in Thailand, not far from where the brothers were sent after they surrendered to Thai authorities in 2001.
Now 25, Johnny has hopes of reuniting with family in New Zealand, and Luther has questions about their former comrades that may never be answered.
The legend of the twins began to form in 1997, when Myanmar troops entered their village during a sweep of Karen territory. At the time, the rebel Karen National Union was in sharp decline.
We got seven rifles from the KNU and there were seven of us,” Luther says. ”We used them to fight against the Burmese army.
Luther now lives in Gotene, a town 335 kilometres west of Stockholm. He married a Karen woman but they later divorced.
Johnny worked as a rice farmer but returned less than a year ago to the refugee camp in Thailand where he had stayed with Luther.
Before departing Thailand last month, Luther tried to learn more about what happened to dozens of his comrades. They may have been victims of a turn in God’s Army’s fortunes that came after it became enmeshed with an even more fringe rebel 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 border area where God’s Army was based. Johnny and Luther took them in.
But the student warriors and some God’s Army members crossed back into Thailand and seized a hospital in 2000.
All 10 attackers were shot dead by Thai authorities – some after surrendering, witnesses said.
God’s Army quickly fell, and the boys surrendered. But their comrades, who lacked the shield of international publicity, disappeared.
”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.
”Since that day, no one ever saw them again.”