(Mis)-adventures of a Wa Officer
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(Mis)-adventures of a Wa Officer

By AUNG NAING OO Saturday, September 18, 2010


A loud explosion jolted me awake and out of my bamboo bed. I rushed out of the room and looked around, dazed and blinking in the bright sunny morning, but did not see anyone. The blast was so close. “Are we under attack?” I wondered. “It can’t be.”

I peeped into Win Maung’s room, but he was not there. Then I saw the teachers and the students talking, and looking towards the headquarters. “Something is going on!” I thought to myself.

The previous night, I had shared a few drinks with the Lahu, as we all watched the firefight between the Wa and Khun Sa two hours away from the Wa headquarters. It was beautiful to see shells flying to and fro and lighting up in the dark in the distance. I did not realize that I had slept in so late.

The teachers then informed me that we were not under attack; rather, Wa officers were testing some weapons and explosives. I was relieved, until minutes later another explosion sent smoke rising from a hill above the meeting hall.

The explosion was so close and so loud, I lost my composure, attempting to jump to the ground in response to the explosion. Grinning, the teachers insisted it was safe and urged me to go and watch.

I soon realized that weapon testing was nothing out of the ordinary for the Wa officers, who often tested the weapons captured in their battles against Khun Sa’s army.

I changed, cleaned up and walked over to the headquarters, where around 20 Wa officers and soldiers were hanging around, talking, with their attention focused on a hill above the meeting hall. 

As I watched, a familiar-looking man rose from among the group, carrying a rocket propelled grenade launcher. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was Min Htoo, the Wa liaison officer, who we had come to know quite well since arriving at the Wa camp.

He walked away from the crowd, aimed the launcher and fired. With a loud bang, the shell exploded on the hill above the meeting hall, sending up dust and smoke.

I was surprised to see Min Htoo firing the weapons. He was more like a civilian officer than an army officer. I never saw him in military uniform. 

He had lent us his cassette player with many oldies. He also lent us his guitar as well as a song book. Thanks to him, for the first time in my life, I heard Elvis Presley and a host of other Western oldies on the mountaintop.

A panshay (Chinese Muslim) from Taunggyi, Shan State, with a Masters degree from Mandalay University, he was the most educated person in the whole camp. He spoke Burmese, Chinese, Shan, Wa, English and Thai and perhaps other local languages.

Tall and good-looking and with a knack for jokes and interesting stories, he had entertained us on many occasions.

The first story I remember is from the mid-1980s, when he and a friend picked up a small package accidentally dropped from a vehicle belonging to a company that made a well-known cheroot brand called “Flying Tiger.”

I was particularly interested because the owner of this company was one of the key supporters of the monastery in Rangoon where I stayed during my years at the university.

It turned out to be a package of heroin. “We sold it,” he said proudly.

He also proudly recalled his escape from Thai police detention in 1988, when he and a fellow Wa officer were arrested while traveling in Thailand without papers.

Once Thai police officers realized they were Wa officers, they demanded 20,000 baht (US $800 then)—10,000 baht each—from them without taking them to the police station. Thai police officers must have assumed that the Wa were rich.

So Min Htoo sent his colleague back to the Wa headquarters to bring the money back, while he remained behind with the police as surety.

Certain that money was on its way, the police officers took him to a house belonging to one of the policemen, then bought whiskey and food to celebrate the imminent windfall. Min Htoo was invited to join the party, and he did, thinking he had nothing to lose.

It was a great party and everyone—all the police officers and Min Htoo—got really drunk and then fell asleep in the kitchen and living room. The next morning when Min Htoo woke up, he saw all the officers snoring or sleeping soundly. For a moment, he did know what to do, but then he realized he could get away without paying the police since he was not handcuffed. So he simply walked to his freedom.

Another story was much more harrowing.

A year or so after his escape from the Thai police, his superior asked him to accompany a group of Thai army officers going to meet their Burmese military counterparts at a Burmese army camp on the border. He was to translate from English to Thai. It seemed the Thai officers did not have enough English to communicate with the Burmese officers.

Min Htoo was concerned about going to the Burmese army camp.

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kyansittha Wrote:
Thanks! Very good presentation and interesting. I would like to read more.

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