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Monday January 24 1:44 PM ET
12-Year Old Twins Lead God's Army

By THAKSINA KHAIKAEW Associated Press Writer

RATCHABURI, Thailand (AP) - The leaders of God's Army, 12-year-old twins Luther and Johnny Htoo, are believed to offer their fighters divine protection in a crusade that blends elements of the Old Testament with "Lord of the Flies."

Gunmen belonging to the group seized a hospital and hundreds of hostages in Thailand on Monday in an attempt to pressure the Thai government to help their beleaguered movement.

Comprising perhaps 200 fighters, God's Army is the oddest of the dozens of rebel groups that have battled Myanmar's government for autonomy since the country gained independence in 1948, under the name Burma.

At their jungle base in Myanmar near the Thai border last month, the Htoo twins displayed a mix of world-weary fatalism and youthful playfulness. They smoked constantly and said they'd lost count of how many Myanmar soldiers they had killed.

But while one moment they exhibited the hollow stares and taciturn attitudes of classic battle fatigue, the next they were gleeful children, wielding their assault rifles like toys, occasionally shooting off rounds.

"I have never cried," Luther declared. "Why would a man cry?" God's Army is made up of ethnic Karens, one of Myanmar's largest minorities. The main group, the Karen National Union, has fought for autonomy for half a century.

The twins' legend began in 1997, when refugees say Myanmar troops staging a major offensive killed Karen men in front of their families, raped the women and torched villages.

When the army came to the Htoo twins' village, the story goes, Johnny and Luther rallied some men and directed a successful counterattack. Followers believe the twins offer them divine protection in battle, keeping bullets from hitting them and mines from exploding under their feet. Like most Karens, God's Army rebels are Christians in a predominantly Buddhist country. The twins have a fundamentalist bent, barring fighting, swearing, drugs and alcohol.

Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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