God's Army (revolutionary group)
God's Army was an armed, revolutionary Christian force that opposed the military government of Burma. The group was an offshoot of the Karen National Union. They were based along the Thailand-Burma border, and conducted a string of audacious guerrilla actions—for example, seizing the embassy of Burma in Bangkok—during the 1990s and early 2000s.
God's Army was formed in an area of eastern Burma populated by the Karen ethnic group, who had been fighting against Burmese army at various times for over fifty years, primarily through the Karen National Union. In the early 90s the Burmese army launched a major operation to secure the route of an oil pipeline through the area. God's Army was led by brothers Johnny and Luther Htoo beginning in 1997, who were at that time estimated to be only ten years of age. Some of the followers of the twins believed that they had "Animist and Christian powers". According to the legend among followers, the twins then rallied defenders of their village by shouting "God's Army!", leading them to a victory over Burmese troops. The legend of the boys was embraced by locals who viewed the existing Karen National Union as corrupt and ineffective.
God's Army was situated in mountainous rainforests along the border between Burma and Thailand. They were a band of Christian guerrillas who maintained an austere lifestyle, including abstinence from sexual intercourse, alcohol, milk, eggs and pork. The group was estimated to have around 500 fighters in 1998, but gradually declined to between 100 and 200 men by early 2000 after many left to find work to support their refugee families. Meanwhile, the Burmese army had 21,000 troops in the area.
In October 1999, A group calling themselves Vigorous Burmese Student Warriors seized the Burmese embassy in Bangkok and the situation ended with their departure, at which point they were taken in by God's Army.
In January 2000, 10 members of God's Army seized a hospital in Ratchaburi, Thailand. The group held 700 to 800 patients and staff members hostage for 22 hours. They demanded the Thai government stop shelling Karen positions in Burma and treatment for their wounded. Thai security forces stormed the hospital, killing all 10 of the gunmen. After the raid, God's Army were strenuously pursued by the Tatmadaw (Burmese armed forces) and shunned by other Karen rebels.
Surrender and disbandment
In January 2001, the Htoo twins and the less than 20 remaining members of God's Army surrendered to Thai soldiers and requested sanctuary. They abandoned the Karens' goal of an autonomous or independent homeland, in exchange for permission to stay in Thailand. In July 2006, Johnny Htoo surrendered to Burma's military government with eight other members of God's Army in two groups.
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- "Terrorist Organization Profile: God's Army". National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. Retrieved 2012-01-16. "Johnny and Luther Htoo, twin brothers who were only nine years old when they formed the God's Army..."
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- The Washington Post. 2000-01-24 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/pmextra/jan00/24/hostage.htm
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