Sunday, May 22, 2011

Phoo Kee Do's Battles - Episode 1

(Concise translation of KNLA Mahn Robert Ba Zan’s “Me and Kanyindon Battle”.)

Battles of Tagaw and Kanyindon (1980-84)

Phoo Kee Do (a) Mahn Robert Ba Zan.
In December 1980 our 23rd Battalion of KNU Seventh Brigade sent five candidates including me to the very first batch of Officer Training School established by the NDF (National Democratic Front) at KNU HQ in Manerplaw. Other four from our Battalion were Gon Shwe Man (resettled in West as refugee), Maung Aye, Than Phu, and Anthony (resettled).

We were issued necessary uniforms, books, stationary, and funds by the Brigade Supply office. There at the Brigade HQ we met other candidates from the Battalion-19, 20, 21, KNDO Fifth Battalion, and the female candidates from the Seventh Brigade HQ.

When we reached Manerplaw we also met other candidates from First Brigade, Second Brigade, Third Brigade, Tenth Battalion (future Fourth Brigade), Sixth Brigade, KNDO HQ, Arakan Liberation Army, Kareni Army, and Shan State Army. All together 120 including the female candidates.

School principal was Major N. Zaw Tan (Kachin), the deputy principal Majore Saw Thein (Karen, deceased), and the Chief instructor Major Ki Yaw Mu (surrendered) and Major Htun Tin (deceased). Other instructors were Bo Rocket, Bo Thay Gay, Ricky, and Man Ngwe Aung (captured). I don’t remember the rest now.

My classmates then were Ka Neh Mee (resettled), Hla Wai (resettled), Htun Htun (resettled), Phaw Do, Bo Kyar, Mu Thwee Gaw, Lwan Htoo Myat, Mu Kal, Lawrence (resettled), Han Sein (resettled), and Kayaw Kaya (surrendered).

For six long months we studied both military and political subjects. Military subjects were drill, small arms, heavy weapons, battle strategies, and guerilla warfare etc., and the political subjects were Karen revolution, administration, agricultural policy, armed coalition, human rights, and communications.

Battle of Tagaw (Hlaing Bwe Township)

During our training we participated in the Battle of Tagaw in Hlaing-bwe Township as a practical battle-exercise. All together 60 cadets joined the exercise as two field platoons of 30 each. The First Platoon was commanded by me and the Second by Ka Neh Mee (resettled in Australia as a refugee).

We took two long-tail boats to Mae Thawaw and then reached to New Shan-ywa village by trucks. Then we marched on foot to the battle field. We could hear the heavy weapons once we hit Tayay-pho-kwee Village. There we received the order to advance. We had a 60mm heavy mortar and 50 mortar shells carried by three porters.

On our way we met the heavy weapon group led by Colonel Yaw Mu. From there we were positioned beside Bo Aung Lin’s Third Company of KNLA Battalion-19. We dug single foxholes for every two men and waited for the enemy. We had no food but water in the canteens. Later the packed lunches arrived. Once opened the smell of rotten rice hit us. But we still ate just to fill our empty stomachs.

Swiss PC-6 airplane.
Then we heard an airplane and soon the Burmese airforce plane was right on top of us. The plane obviously had been locating our positions and I was told the plane was Swiss-made PC-6. Soon, the enemy was shelling us with their 75mm recoilless guns and 120mm mortars. Even in the foxholes we had no overhead protection from shelling and an officer cadet from Ka Ne Mee’s platoon was killed there.

Battle had begun and our turn to attack the enemy troops coming to reinforce the enemy camp in Tagaw was not that far now.

The night arrived and it was a full moon night. We could see clearly up to 50 yards away under the moonlight. “Htwwe-he-lee (enemy is coming), quar-may-htee (watch carefully),” were the orders from Captain Aung Lin. I set up our 60mm mortar and called out to the porters to bring up their cane-basket loads of mortar shells. I then sent them back into their foxholes behind us.

75mm Recoilless Gun.
Very soon we heard the gunshots on our right. Also at our front the enemy troops were seen approaching. I fired 60mm shells one after another into the enemy at our front eventually forcing them to withdraw. Our troops from Battalion-19 charged ahead and cleared the area. They found four enemy bodies and collected one .30 semi-automatic carbine and three G3 automatic rifles.

After the enemy’s withdrawal I walked along our line of foxholes and inspected the men. Only one Karenni cadet from my platoon was wounded, not seriously as he could still walk. Soon after the battle we received our retreat orders and we systematically withdrew back to the assembly point.

We got back to the school next day. There we did the detail study of the whole battle again. We were not the main attacking force but an assisting force to the main troops. The battle strategy was also a strategy drawing and demolishing the enemy troops coming to reinforce their fortified base at Tagaw under a feint attack by our auxiliary troops.

The study continued on and one lesson was how to build formidable bunkers. As an exercise we dug and built a large bunker on the hilltop at Law-quar-lu Signal HQ hill. After six months the school was over and graduation ceremony came. Aung Naing, Ka Neh Mee, and Hla Wai got the First, Second, and Third prizes respectively.

After the school I was sent back to the Seventh Brigade and the Brigade HQ assigned me to the Battalion-19 again. The Brigade Commander then was Colonel Saw Htein Maung who later split from the KNU and joined the enemy as KNU/KNLA Peace Council.


I was granted a short leave and I stayed with my wife and children then living at New Wankha (a) Kormura Base Camp. A week after my daughter Mu Mu Ba Zan was born I prepared to travel back to the front line. One night my wife started bleeding suddenly. Midwife Ma Aye Shin couldn’t do a thing and we had to call Colonel Dr. Sing (now deceased).

While he was taking care of her I told him that I had to go to the frontline and I worried about my wife. He just simply told me that I wasn’t a doctor and even if I was there I couldn’t do a thing for her, so I should just go wherever I was needed. He was right and next day I reported to the Battalion-19 Deputy CO Lt. Colonel Saw Maung Htun (now deceased) at Naw-teh-khee Village. With me were my bodyguards privates E Sut (Muslim), Izac (Captured), and Moses.

The District of Phar-an comprises four townships namely Paing-kyone, Htee-lone, Na-boo, and Don-yin Townships. Our KNLA (Karen National Liberation Army) had a few mobile columns and the First Column from Battalion-19 was then in Paing-kyone Township.

There were quite a few Indian-muslim villages in that township and the major villages were Htee-pho-ta-yay, Lar-da-weh, Paing-kyone-moe-neh, and Tha-yet-taw villages. Our Column had many Muslim soldiers but they could speak only Karen.  If you hear them speaking Karen you will think they are Karens till you see them and realize they are Muslim Indians. But if we called them Indians they were really angry. So we called them Ka-nyaw-thu (Black Karens).

While I was at Naw-ta-khee the First Column came back in through Na-boo. Only then I was introduced to the Column Commander and the Deputy CO of Battalion-19 Major Jor Nee (Johnny). He was a fair-skinned handsome man. His Company Commanders were Captain Loo See (Second Company), Captain  Aung Lin (Third Company and I already met him at Ta-gaw Battle), Captain Jor Phyu (Major Jaw Nee’s younger brother), and Captain Day War (HQ Company).

Captain Tar Pee the Commander of Fourth Company was killed in a battle just before I arrived and so I took over his company from the acting-Commander CSM Maw Ko. Most of the officers in the battalion were just primary school educated while some were middle school dropouts and few were high school graduates.

But they could all be professors in military education as most had already fought hundred of battles against Burmese army, one of the toughest armies in the world. If one doesn’t believe me just ask the high ranking Burmese army officers like Colonel Mya Thin, Colonel Aye Thaung, Colonel Myint Aung, or Colonel Khin Nyunt (MIS Chief General Khin Nyunt). (In my humble opinion there is no military academy better than the battlefields.)

MG42 Medium Machinegun.
Every company had a Burmese Army-issued MG42 medium machine gun captured from the enemy. The battalion also had a 57mm recoilless gun, a .50 Browning machine gun, a 3.5 in Bazooka, a 60 mm mortar, and two 81 mm mortars. We all carried AK47 and M16 automatic rifles purchased from the weapon black markets in Thailand.

Equipped with modern small arms and heavy weaponry and also the high Karen patriotic moral our Battalion was a very strong fighting force.


When I was serving as a political commissar of the KPLA (Karen People Liberation Army) Battalion-2 in the Irrawaddy Delta we had the battalion slogan “Serve the People”, and we always behaved accordingly. Basically we couldn’t survive without the supports in the forms of food, soldiers, money, and information from the people.  Because of the Karen people our Karen revolution has lasted more than 60 years so far and this incident of our Fourth Company would be the fine example of us KNLA forces serving the people.

One day in early 1980s our Column marched into the Kyet-too-yway Village to attack the enemy column from LIB-6 (Light Infantry Battalion – 6) of LID-44 (Light Infantry Division – 44). Captain Al Htoo’s column from Battalion-101 had waited at the new Htee-phoe-tray Village to circle the enemy from rear if we engage the enemy column.

PRC-77 Wireless Radio set.
Our radio was a PRC (Portable radio communication) manpack set needing a fulltime-porter to carry. Normally we turned on the set once in every hour. Only during the battles the set was kept on continuously.

While our Column was at Kyet-too-yway Village the enemy column was at Kau-myat-kyee Village and they were still at a distance from us. So I walked through the village to inspect the positions of my company. Because of the impending enemy attack the whole village was deserted and I found a huge paddy field already ploughed and the piles of rice saplings ready to be planted left there by the fleeing farmers.

A serious thought came into my mind that these rice saplings could be seriously damaged if they were not planted  very soon. Thus I made a decision to plant them as a service to the people of this village. I immediately issued the orders asking 3 men each from every section and all the porters from the heavy weapon group to follow me into the vacant paddy field.

Rice transplanting in Burma.
My Company had three platoons and all together nine sections since each platoon had three sections. So our company’s total strength is 85 fighting men and 84 porters and I now had more than 50 men in the field starting the transplanting of rice saplings.

Since most of us were the children of peasant farmers we knew exactly what we had to do and within three hours the planting of the whole field was finished. We were happy for our good work and not even tired. We then came back to our positions just outside the village. Then the owner of that field showed up and asked me to give him four five men so that he could give them a large male pig to be slaughtered and cooked for our meal.

I was so pleased by our efforts and the return present I even called my platoon commanders Htoo Gay, Ne-kra-kho, and Shwe Nyein and gave them a lecture about the good deeds of serving the people.

“Look at this. Just because we serve the village people they come giving us a pig without us even asking.”
“People here know their revolutionary duty. They give us their youth to serve as our soldiers. They give us food whenever our columns come. They give us porters whenever we ask. They give us money as land taxes.”
“Unlike them we do not fulfill our revolutionary duties. We can’t even fight the enemy once a month. We eat one hundred buckets of their rice easily once our column comes into a village. We must serve the people while we are not engaging the enemy.”
“Without the people our army would be like a man without blood.”

That day the enemy LIB-6 also didn’t show up there and we were ordered back to the Noe-law-pa-leh Village. At least I was happy doing something good that day not just wasting time   travelling around carrying a rifle.


KNLA General Htein Maung.
In our Karen society about 80 percents of our people are Buddhists and the rest Christians. Naturally our enemy (the majority Buddhist Burmese) has some sympathetic Karen Buddhist monks on their side by forming a Karen Buddhist Monk Association. According to our information the head monk of Ywa-thit village monastery was the secretary of the local Karen Sanga Association sponsored by the Burmese Army.

In guerilla warfare one has to practice two-face policy as one needs to deal also with the enemy and their sympathizers. Whenever two sides are fighting the side with better recruiting ability will eventually win. And one cannot recruit people to become our allies just by saying big words. One has to show with real hard work.

So that day I was basically looking for an opportunity to change Ywa-thit Monk’s mind about us as we marched into his area. I even ordered my men to take off their boots and flip-flops whenever they had to walk on a monastery ground as a show of deep respect like a Buddhist Burmese or a Buddhist Karen always does.

Our Column then was in the Paing-kyone Township and the companies were spread out in the villages of Paung, Pa-oh, Ywa-thit, Ye-bu, and Htee-pho-ta-yay. My company was in the Ye-bu Village. On the high pagoda hill was my Second Platoon with the 57mm recoilless gun. First Platoon was in the wood east of the village, Third Platoon was in the wood west of the village and the Company HQ with the 81mm Mortar was on the Monastery ground in the village.

I then called the platoon commanders and instructed them, “Okay, just watch. We have to do some work for the monk to get something back from him. Look, the novices are digging a toilet-hole there. First Platoon will help them. And Second Platoon will cut the grass on the pagoda hill and Third Platoon will clean the area around the Village School. Company HQ staff will fetch the water and fill the big pots in the monastery. All the porters will sweep the monastery ground and cut the firewood.”

Then I sat down in the shade of a big mango tree and turned on the PRC set to listen to the instructions coming from the Column Commander while my men were working hard for the monastery as I had ordered them. It didn’t take long at all to realize a favorable response from the head-monk of the Ye-bu Monastery.

The Monk promptly sent a man to ask me if we have anyone who could climb the tall coconut tree on the monastery land. I said yes and he let us pick a few coconuts. He then gave us a large basket full of sticky rice, enough for whole company. So we all had tasty steamed sticky rice and coconut for our lunch that day.

Later the villagers brought four chickens for me, but I cooked and ate only one and gave the monastery-man three chickens to cook for the monks and novices. That evening the village chief visited me with a bottle of local moonshine liquor. He then reported the village situations to me. He particularly wanted to tell me about their low crop yield that year because of a mild drought and severe insect damages.

I understood his point as under any circumstance they will be forced to pay the full amount of land taxes by the KNU Township Committee. With drought and insect damages they won’t be able to pay their full land taxes that year to our KNU. I thought the KNU Township Committees should understand the real hardship on the people by the high land taxes. Land taxes or the hearts and minds of people, which one is the priority?
Battle of Kanyindon

Karen State Map.
The order from the Column to prepare all the companies for a long march was received. Phaw-may, Bo-may (eat and cook). So we ate and also cooked rice to take along with the Column for the long trip. We marched on foot for two whole days. We then crossed the Salween River to the East Bank and marched over the range and camped somewhere in the jungle after the range. There we met other KNLA Columns.

Special Column 101, the Second KNLA Column, the Fourth KNLA Column, the Fifth KNLA Column, and the Brigade HQ with its Heavy Weapon Group, all together a mighty strength of more than 1,500. The porter numbers also might be not less than 500.

The Brigade Commander Colonel Htein Maung called and met the officers including the Company Commanders and above. “Major Jor Nee’s First Column will attack the Kanyindon Police Station as a feint. Other columns will ambush the army reinforcements coming from both Ka-ma-maung on south and Ka-taing-ti on north of Kanyindon. Our objective is the major ambushes on the army reinforcements from Ka-ma-maung and Ka-taing-ti and a feint attack on the police station at Kanyindon,” he also told us the D-day and exact time for the planned attacks.

Column 101 and the Second Column took the positions between Kanyindon and Ka-ma-maung while the Fourth and Fifth Columns took the positions between Kanyindon and Ka-taing-ti. Since the whole of First Column wasn’t needed for the feint assault on Kanyidon police station my Fourth Company was temporarily attached to the Brigade HQ as the reserve unit.

We all dug foxholes at our position. Soil was hard and it took whole day and we were ready only after midnight. Once all the columns were ready at their respective positions the First Column began to assault the Kanyindon Police. The whole day we could hear the MG42 and small arms fires from Kanyindon.

Burmese para-military Policemen.
The enemy reinforcements didn’t come out as expected in first day. The assault on Kanyindon continued on next day and still the army units from Ka-ma-maung and Ka-taing-ti bases didn’t come to Kanyindon. After two days Major Jaw Nee the commander of our First Column decided to take the Police Station at Kanyindon and called my company to join them.

We used all our heavy weapons on the police camp and very soon the buildings in the camp were burning one after another. We shouted at the police still inside their fortified camp to surrender, “Hey, there is only army reinforcement. No police reinforcement. Hands up and surrender. We won’t kill you!”

Very soon a police officer came out raising hands up in the air from their end of the bridge crossing the creek. Major Jaw Nee walked down from the other end and met him at the middle of the bridge. The battle of Kanyindon was over.

The police officer was Deputy Police Inspector Aye Maung the Chief of the Kanyindon Police Station. Our men collected their guns and equipments. We gathered the captured prisoners carrying their meager possessions. Two soldiers from Pharpun IB-19, seventeen policemen, three young police wives, and two young children, all together twenty-four prisoners began on the long journey across the mountains and through the jungles back to our strongholds by the Thai Border.

On the way back I tried to eat rice out of a pack. Just rice not even salt were in the pack and the rice already smelled. Anyway I was hungry and still tried to eat rice out off the pack while walking. Then I saw the little daughter of one policeman struggling to catch up with the rest.

.30 M1 US Carbine.
She was the 4 or 5 years old daughter of surrendered Burmese policeman Ba Cho who had to carry their bags while his young wife was carrying their baby son. Other policemen wouldn’t carry the girl and her father kept on angrily yelling at her to walk faster. On a bushy jungle track no way she could walk as fast as us. So I decided to carry her.

I threw away the rice pack, drink some water from my canteen, and gave my M1 carbine and equipment to one private. Then I made a child carrying sling with my big towel and lifted her onto my back.

“What is your name, big girl?” I asked her and she replied, “Thida, Uncle.”

She was a lovely girl and she immediately reminded me of my little daughter. That instance I also remembered what my late father (Late KNU President Man Ba Zan) often told me.

“My son, a war basically is the armed resistance in a conflict that couldn’t be solved politically. In war properties got destroyed and people got killed or wounded or captured. These things shouldn’t happen but still happen. Among us the brothers of this Union, can we not solve our political problems with a brotherly love? Or can we ever kill each other to the last of us and exterminate one another by armed oppression? As the war is dragged longer there will be more casualties and more sufferings in our little country.

And in the battlefields, if you capture the enemy alive or wounded (they could even be females), under any circumstance you practice a decent POW policy. Treat them the way you yourself would want to be treated.  Once they are your prisoners they are no longer your enemies. As Jesus Christ had so often said you are to ‘Love Your Enemy’ and be kind to the innocent dependants.”

Late KNU President Mahn Ba Zan.
Little Burmese girl Thida had already fallen sleep on my back. In my thoughts, I was reminding myself that this little girl and the wives of Burmese policemen were innocent as they were just dependants. Even the captured soldiers and policemen were no longer our enemies as they had already surrendered their guns. And they were our Union brothers.

But also in my thoughts back then were the six months long arrest of my mother and my kid brothers and sisters in 1958. Why were they arrested by the Burmese Government? Were they not dependants and children? Then again in 1966, my mother and my year 10 student sister Poh Po Zan and my 78 years old grandfather were arrested. My grandpa was tortured in the prison and he died after 7 long years in a prison. Why were they imprisoned? Were they not innocent dependants?

Why is our enemy Burmese Army invading the Karan Nation and committing the atrocities   like killing, jailing, raping, burning, and force laboring at their whim. Aren’t we Karens their Union brethrens?  Aren’t we their brothers and sisters?  Aren’t we Karens human beings?

“Uncle, I’m thirsty,” Little Thida’s voice suddenly cut off the strings of thoughts from my mind. I said, “Aye, aye,” to her and gave her some water from my canteen. Ups and downs the mountains for a very long distance had made me sweat even from my forehead. But I didn’t feel exhausted and I was even happy as to exactly follow what my father and Lord Jesus Christ had asked me.

Finally we reached our assembly point in the liberated area. We gave the prisoners a rest. That night we provided them with tea and snacks and explained our Karen revolution policies to them. “Do we need to guard them?” my men asked me and I told them, “No need to guard them now as they don’t have any weapons.”

KNU General Saw Bo Mya.
Next day we even had a Volleyball match between the prisoners and our team led by the Column Commander Major Jaw Nee himself. Of course our side won. And we were no longer enemies. Next day we sent all the prisoners to the Yin-baing Village and into the hands of Commandos from KNU HQ. Our leader General Bo Mya wanted to see the prisoners, we were told.

I didn’t know what happened to them after that but these are my wishes for them now.

If that little girl Thida is still alive I wish she could be able to serve the Union for the peace, equality, democracy, rule of law, and human rights.

If that Deputy Police Inspector Aye Maung is still alive I wish he could become a people police serving the people.

If those policemen prisoners from the Kanyindon Police Station are still alive I wish they could become the protectors of the people.

(Translator's Notes: The writer seemed to be telling the readers that the 24 Burmese prisoners were most probably killed by their Kayin captors. There was a very real possibility that all those prisoners including the women and children were executed later by Bo Mya as his long-running brutal policy then was not to release any Burmese POW. 

So why did the 1500 strong KNLA Seventh Brigade take those 24 useless Burmese prisoners including 3 women and two very young children all the way back to the Thai Border just to hand them into murderer Bo Mya’s merciless hands? One obvious answer is that Colonel Htain Maung was not willing to kill them and at the same time he was dead scared of Bo Mya to let them go.)