Young Myanmar Rebel Johnny Htoo Surrenders

The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 25, 2006; 2:54 PM

YANGON, Myanmar -- One of two young twin brothers who led a small band of ethnic rebels calling themselves "God's Army" has surrendered to Myanmar's military government, state radio and television reported Tuesday night.

Johnny Htoo and eight fellow members of the group left a refugee camp in Thailand earlier this month and surrendered with weapons in two separate groups on July 17 and 19 at the coastal region military command in southeastern Myanmar, according to the reports.

In the late 1990s, Johnny and his brother, Luther, were charismatic leaders of a small band of ethnic Karen Christian rebels in eastern Myanmar fighting the country's military regime.

They achieved mystical status among their followers after Myanmar troops entered their village during a 1997 sweep of areas inhabited by the country's Karen minority. Johnny and Luther reportedly rallied some locals and directed a successful counterattack. Their acolytes came to believe the twins were invulnerable to bullets and land mines.

A photo of the twins, then about 12 years old, showing a soulful looking Johnny with long hair and Luther puffing on a cigarette, became an iconic image of child soldiers. The two are now about 18.

They surrendered to Thai authorities in January 2001, and had been living in a refugee camp in Thailand. A Thai TV program about them last year showed two well-groomed youths, who were interested in music and religion.

God's Army first gained attention after providing refuge to another group of Myanmar rebels _ the Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors, who took hostages at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok in October 1999. They were allowed to go free in exchange for releasing the captives.

In January 2000, after the God's Army camp at Ka Mar Pa Law came under Myanmar and Thai military pressure, the Warriors seized a hospital in the western Thai province of Ratchaburi, but they all were killed by Thai commandos.

It was unclear if the Htoo twins were involved in the hospital incident. After a year on the run, they surrendered to Thai authorities with about a dozen of their followers.

Tuesday's Myanmar media reports did not mention Luther Htoo. Television showed what it said was a photo of the group's surrender.

"As they could not put up with the bullying of fellow rebels, realizing the goodwill of the government and having the desire to live peacefully with their families, altogether nine members of the God's Army led by Johnny Htoo returned to the legal fold last week," the radio report said.

It added that other ethnic rebel groups also wanted to surrender.

Karen and other ethnic minority rebel groups have been fighting for more autonomy in Myanmar, also known as Burma, for five decades.

Altogether, 17 major ethnic rebel groups and several smaller breakaway rebel groups have reached peace agreement or surrendered to the ruling military junta since 1989 and have been working with the junta for regional development.

However, the main Karen rebel group, the Karen National Union, is still fighting.

© 2006 The Associated Press