Nearly a Nasty Accident
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Wednesday, June 23, 2021


Nearly a Nasty Accident

By AUNG NAING OO Saturday, October 2, 2010


Towards the end of February, 1990, Win Maung and I visited the front-lineee where the Wa and Khun Sa’s army were fighting each other. It was Win Maung’s second trip and the first for me.

By this time, the merger between the Wa from the north and the south was in full swing and the new organization was to use the name adopted by the northern Wa: the United Wa State Army. But we did not know that yet; we only knew San Lou Yong as the Wa National Organization (WNO). 

It was a beautiful sunny morning. Lt. Khun Lot, a former student from Lashio College, collected us and took us to the front line at San Lou Yong, headquarters of the Wa National Organization (WNO), about two hours away on foot.

As soon as we left the camp and headed towards the fighting, we saw the traces of major clashes that had occurred two years earlier. There were many trenches along the ridge, each one just big enough to hold one soldier. Though they had been dug a few years earlier, they were still clearly visible all along the ridge, about 300 meters from the WNO headquarters.

The trenches had been dug by Khun Sa’s army, and they were a reminder of how close it had come to seizing San Lou Yong. The offensive on San Lou Yong came before the merger between the Wa in the south and from the north.

Help for the Wa came from an unexpected quarter—the Karen.

With Khun Sa’s Mong Tai army about to overrun San Lou Yong, the Wa called for help and the Karen National Union (KNU) responded. Both were members of the National Democratic Front (NDF), the armed ethnic alliance.

The Karen’s military assistance to the Wa was reminiscent of a fable from King Anawrahta’s rule, relating how he sent military assistance to Bago when it was under siege from foreign invaders.

The king sent four seasoned warriors to assist the Mon king in Bago and they succeeded in helping to repel the attack. The four heroes were said to be the equivalent of 400,000 soldiers.

Similarly, the KNU sent three officers, armed with three mortars, to the WNO headquarters. For several days and nights, the Karen officers fired round after round of mortars at Khun Sa’s army, which was dug into the trenches close to San Lou Yong, readying itself for a final assault on the camp.

Despite its earlier advantage, Khun Sa’s troops could not withstand the onslaught and were finally forced to retreat. The bombardment was the turning point in the Wa’s war against Khun Sa – and the Karen officers were celebrated as heroes.

We heard this epic tale from many Wa officers. When the Wa soldiers learned we had come from Manerplaw, the KNU’s headquarters, we were accorded special guest status and became a center of attention around San Lou Yong.

We arrived at Lt. Khun Lot’s outpost at around 11 a.m. and found only three soldiers there. It seemed peaceful and there was no evidence of any fighting.

The main hut, Lt. Khun Lot's living quarters and another smaller hut for his soldiers, were spick and span. Outside the main hut was a rocket launcher mounted on a home-made iron stand.

We ate and listened to Lt. Khun Lot’s war stories. He told us the rocket launcher had been taken from a helicopter gunship. Arms smugglers had sold it to the Wa. It must have come from Cambodia, he reckoned.

The launcher was operated by a switch with a few small AA batteries connected by a wire. It was open-ended and a hazard for anyone standing behind the contraption when it was fired.

Lt. Khun Lot had attempted to make it safer by attaching a wire five meters long between the battery switch and the launcher. There was still a problem—the shells invariably overshot their target.

The Wa officer turned to us for help, handing us a collection of tools that I had last seen in the possession of engineering students at university.

We meekly said we'd try to help out although none of us had any engineering experience. I had studied maths in high school, but my major subject at university had been English. Win Maung's university studies had also not included maths.

Lt. Khun Lot was even less of a help, since his university subject had been Burmese literature.

Win Maung and I looked at each other. Our plight seemed to me  to resemble the situation when George Orwell, then a police officer in the British colonial service, was called on to shoot an elephant in Moulmein. If we did not try to fix this rocket launcher, we would lose face since we were regarded as the best educated members of the outpost.

Win Maung and I set out to work, racking our brains and trying to recall every bit of geometry/trigonometry that we had learned in high school, with all the measuring tools at our disposal spread out on the ground.

After an hour or so of fiddling around with the launcher, we announced we had succeeded. Lt.

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Free Man Wrote:
Glad to learn that they (Karens and Was) helped each other. Likewise, it is extremely important that all the ethnic nationalities of Burma, including Burmans, help each other fight against ignorance, intellectual dishonesty, chauvinism, extreme ethnocentrism, old illiberal and undemocratic values, intolerance of diversity, etc. so that we would be freed from the situation described in the following link.

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