War Among Brethren
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Wednesday, June 23, 2021


War Among Brethren

By AUNG NAING OO Saturday, October 16, 2010


We had a wonderful time in San Lou Yong with a myriad of little surprises.

Take for example the Lahu War veteran who owned San Lou Yong’s biggest convenience store. The veteran had lost his left leg fighting for the Wa and limped as he walked on his fake leg.

One day, this shopkeeper silently followed me and Win Maung after we left his shop. He was carrying a cassette recorder and a book in his hand, but since he did not speak Burmese, we did not ask him anything, and assumed he was just on his way somewhere.

We were wrong. The shopkeeper followed us right to the school and into the room as we sat down. Puzzled, we looked at him but Win Maung was able to welcome him by gesturing him to sit down. Then the shopkeeper placed the book and recorder on the table and spoke in a language that we did not understand. I looked at the book. It was an English Bible. We tried to speak to him in Burmese, to no avail.

After a few minutes of non-conversation and gestures, it slowly dawned on us that he wanted us to record the Bible into his cassette recorder. He must have heard from someone that we were teachers and that we knew English.

Win Maung suggested that I help him. So I did, reading the chapter from the Bible that the Lahu veteran showed me. He sat opposite us and listened to the recording. His satisfaction was written all over his face. We were happy too because we did a little thing that made him happy.

Whenever we visited his shop after that, he adamantly refused to take money from us for the things we wanted. We felt bad about that; what we had done was a small, simple task and we had not expected any favors in return. So after that, we tried to avoid going to his shop as much as possible.

Another surprise was a bit of a mystery.

There were two mule routes to the Camp Secretary’s living quarters—one that passed the mess hall and the other, little used, that passed right in front of our sleeping rooms in the school.

One day, though, the Wa mule driver led three mules down the path right in front of our room, many times over the course of a day. He appeared to be coming back and forth with loads coming from Thailand, just one or two kilometers away, or a place unknown.

At around 3 p.m., after watching him make at least several trips back and forth, I could not contain my curiosity and finally asked him what he had been transporting all day long using the little-used road.

“Silver coins,” he said, pausing for a brief moment before moving on with the mules. I was initially surprised. But then I recalled how some Wa hold told us that in certain Wa villages, local people did not take any paper money, and would only accept colonial-era coins with the imprint of King George. So it made sense to me that our hosts might accumulate such coins so they could buy supplies such as food from the villagers.

Now when I look back I realize they were probably not silver coins; more likely, they were gold bars or heroin. At least that's what I suspected, although I will never know for sure.

Yet the biggest and not-so-pleasant surprise came from a radio conversation that I overheard through walkie-talkies among the enemy forces.

We were often invited by Wa officers who had gone to the Mon area to study radio communication and interception to listen to their conversations with Khun Sa's officers.

Such chatting among enemies was not unusual among Burma’s ethnic rivals. In Manerplaw and other places where there was fighting, radio interception or conversation via short-wave walkie-talkies was very common among the opposing forces.

The frontline outposts were very close. Sometimes, one could shout abuses or challenges to the enemy positions on the mountain. And each side knew through radio interception or intelligence reports who the enemy commander was, his military position, his mother unit and even his habits. But they never met each other in person.

Since the soldiers from opposing armies had to stay in one place for a long period of time they came to know each other—or at least their code names—through radio interceptions.  

The conversations could be varied. Sometimes soldiers just bragged to their enemies about what they’d had for dinner, with one side boasting about a delicious meal of chicken curry or something else better than the other side had just eaten. Sometimes there would even be requests for popular songs.

Often these exchanges were pure propaganda. There were instances in which one side read the whole page of a political declaration over the radio.  

The soldiers from both sides tried to intercept the conversations or the other or talked to each other all the time.

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Ko Pauk Wrote:
Actually, Bamas are Bamar. They are more brothers to Bangladeshis and Arakans. Bamar is nothing to do with Chin, Kachin, Karen, Shan and others. There is no brother relationship whatsoever. The Bamar is the invader. They are cheats and wicked people.

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