Monday, May 16, 2011

Colonel Thet Oo - Chapter 2-2

(This is a concise translation of Col Thet Oo (a) Thaung Wai Oo’s Autobiography.)

 Ka-ma-maung Town

I and Mary had stayed in the town of Ka-ma-maung for more than three years since we got married. Interesting thing about Ka-ma-maung was that the little town was full of strange customs and practices. The name Ka-ma-maung itself is a rather strange name. Once I asked some elders for its true meaning.

“What sort of name is Ka-ma-maung? Not Burmese, not Karen.”
“Oh, it really is a Burmese name. The original name Kar-ma-mhaung has gradually shifted with time to present name Ka-ma-maung.”
“Really, Kar-ma-mhaung, the darkness of carnal desires?
“Okay, the story of our town is something like this. Long, long time ago this town was established by a king. He had a son and a daughter. As they loved each other so much they didn’t get married when they became man and woman and eventually they committed incest. When their father found out they committed suicides. The sister killed herself at the west of the town and the brother crossed the Salween River and killed himself on the east bank.”
“Are you sure about that? Are there any historical evidence? If historians hear about that they will say it is just a bullshit story.”
“Of course, there is no historical evidence. It is just a mouth-to-mouth history. But if you look carefully at the Pan-daw-mhee Range on the Salween’s east bank it is like a big man lying on his back. And also look at the Mee-zai rang on the west of Ka-ma-maung. It is like a young woman lying on her back. The hair, the breasts, like a real woman. It is the evidence of the name Kar-ma-mhaung.”

And I just had to nod and smile as what they said was visibly true. Another strange thing about Ka-ma-maung was if coming upstream on the Salween River from Moulmein in down south it was the last port town. After Ka-ma-maung the Salween was totally un-navigable for the motorized boats because of the large rocks in the river. Ka-ma-maung was basically the end of waterway from Moulmein.

Karen State of Burma.
On land, Ka-ma-maung was conveniently connected to Pharpun at the 53 miles north by Aung-theik-di Highway. Ka-ma-maung then was the only land gateway to the Pharpun region which is protecting the waist of our Burma. Both geographically and militarily it is a strategically crucial town.

(Nowadays there is a vehicular road on the west bank of Salween and one can drive from Ka-ma-maung to Thahton through Du-yin-seik. There also is a vehicular road on the east bank of Salween from Phar-an through Shwe-goon to Myaing-gyi-ngoo across the Salween from Ka-ma-maung.)

Ka-ma-maung had Buddhists, Animists, and Christians all living together in peace. Even among the Christians there were Roman Catholics, Baptists, and Seventh Day Adventists. But superstitious practices were well rooted there and here are some examples.

“Do not climb the stairs backward. It will bring misfortune to the household.”
“Do not point at a rainbow. It will bring drought.”
“Do not kill and eat hornbill birds. It will bring misfortune to one’s children.”
“Do not carry a corpse across a paddy field. It will reduce the crop yield.”
“Do not kill peacocks and python snakes. It will bring bloody injuries to one.”

These superstitious believe were mainly among the Animist Karens but the Buddhists seemed to follow them too as the Buddhists and the Pagans were living together mostly. They celebrate Karen New Year every year with traditional dances and prayers to the gods.

One strange Animist practice was after a funeral. If someone dies they always have what they called the Bone Collection and Soul-Calling ceremonies. The Soul-Calling ceremony was to prevent the souls of the alive from following the soul of the recently deceased.

Exactly seven days after the death the Soul-Calling ceremony was a must for all the Karens there. I personally had a strange and interesting experience with that practice which I could nerve be able to forget.

A Ghost or a Soul-in-Limbo?

While I was on a garrison duty with a company at the Ka-taing-ti village on the Yunsalin River, one private Mya Han was my batman and he cooked for me and took care of me. I as a lieutenant was just a platoon commander but the company CO was sick and I was the acting CO.

Mya Han was about 25 years old, thin and dark, and a very good cook. But he had a bad blood when drunk and sometimes he got into fights with young men from the village. So he was known to have some enemies. I even had to punish him once when he got into a serious trouble with the youths from the village.

One day I’d got some bad news from our informers on the eastern ranges across the Yunsalin River. KNU was amassing their guerillas to attack our camp at Ka-taing-ti. Instead of waiting for them I decided to take the fight to them. So I took two platoons and crossed the River and marched out towards the enemy position.

The camp was left in the hands of our Company Sergeant Major (CSM) Saw Ba Htun and a platoon. CSM was a Buddhist Karen from Phar-an region and an old soldier and he knew the local Karen practices very well.

We left the camp early and on the way we entered and cleared the villages along the way one by one. We finally reached on the eastern ranges by noon. But we got the news that a large enemy force had already left towards west. Having worried about the camp we doubled back towards the Ka-taing-ti Camp.

As we were approaching the eastern bank of Yunsalin River  at about 4 in the afternoon we heard the automatic fire of small arms from our camp on the west bank. We crossed the river quick and entered the camp. There at the camp gate by the village we found a group of our men and also fatally wounded Mya Han with two exit wounds in his chest on the ground.

Bubbly froths were dripping from his mouth. CSM Saw Ba Htun reported to me that Mya Han on his way to the guard house for the sentry duty was shot at point blank by a KNU insurgent in civilian cloths.

Mya Han then opened his eyes and saw me and looked at me as if he wanted to apologize for his carelessness about danger. He couldn’t say anything though.

“Mya Han, listen, you have to take revenge on your killers. You have to protect this camp too. Do you understand?” CSM said in a very serious tone while staring at his face.

Dying Mya Han seemed to hear CSM’s words. His lips moved, but not a sound came out.

“Mya Han, do you understand? Do you still hear me?” CSM yelled at him again.

Mya Han’s lips continued to move as if he heard and understood. Then his lips stopped moving and his eyes were closed. He’s gone forever.


That evening we buried him. And I felt sad as he was quite close to me and very loyal to me. But I knew the enemies were already in the camp’s vicinity and so I put the whole camp in heightened alert by letting only half of the men sleep and keeping other half on a stand to.

That night was a half moon night and the moon came out only at 9. When the time was 10 in the night I still couldn’t sleep even though I was extremely tired from the long trip the whole day and the tragic drama back at the camp. The whole camp was under a blanket of soft moonlight and the night was so quiet one could probably hear a pin drop. Then suddenly I heard the loud commotions from the Northern end of the camp.

“Freeze, who goes there? Stop, hey stop! Stop, I said stop, stop,” the sentry was agressively challenging and once the shouting ended the gunshots came out.
“Bang, bang. Bang-bang-bang-bang,” the single shots followed by a burst of automatic shots could be heard and I immediately reached there in no time.
“Hey, what happened?” I asked the sentry.
“A man just came through the fence, Captain. I challenged him to stop, but he wouldn’t stop. He got so close I had to shoot him.”
“Are you sure? The fence has three sealed layers and the mine field before that. How could one come through them? It is impossible!”
“It was a man, Captain. He came so close rushing through the fences I was so afraid and I shot him.”
“So where is he? The one you just shot. Was he an enemy? Who was he?”

The sentry was a new private and having not much experience I believed he was scared.

“I was firing at him but he still approached me and I had a good look at him. He wasn’t enemy, Captain.”
“Hey, if he wasn’t enemy who was he?”
“Private Mya Han, Captain. Still in same uniform from evening. The blood stains on his chest. He reached almost 10 yards from me and then vanished.”
“Are you so sure? Or are you seeing things because you’re scared?”

At the finish of my sentence, CSM Saw Ba Htun who was at my side interrupted us.

“That’s right, Captain. Mya Han can not abandon this camp. I know for sure,” He confidently said.

Then suddenly we heard the suspicious sounds of cattle bells, human voices, and bush trampling from the northern and southern vicinities of our fortified camp.

“Hey, Burmese soldiers, you are surrounded! Surrender! We are Kaw-thu-lays (KNU)!”

The enemies were shouting and at the same time firing their small arms and heavy launchers at us. We could hear the explosion of one mine from our minefield just outside the first fence. They appeared to have taken positions just outside of our camp under the darkness and started their assault once the moon had come out.

Luckily we were alert and alarmed and waiting for them because of that sentry incident. They repeatedly assaulted our camp till midnight but they couldn’t even penetrate the first fence and finally just before dawn they withdrew towards west while swearing and shouting obscenities at us.


We cleared the camp’s vicinity next morning and found traces of at least 100 strong enemy taking positions in the forests both north and south of our camp. They had already cleared the minefield and started crossing the cleared minefield. We could see the dug-out mines, the traces of mine explosions, and the blood stains everywhere on the ground. (They had carried their casualties along with them to wherever they were heading after the failed raid.)

I could say we were really lucky as the camp could have been overrun if they did manage to breach the fences after clearing the minefield. But we were alerted in time and able to defend the camp. This was what CSM Saw Ba Htun said to me then.

“We were really lucky, Captain. Mya Han has saved us.”
“Why, how has Mya Han save us?”
“Oh, Mya Han’s ghost did warn us in time about enemy’s approach!”
“Are you so sure, CSM?”
“Yes, I am a local here. There are so many things you don’t know here yet. Later, you’ll know.”

I look at the fair and muscular old Karen soldier’s square face and couldn’t say back anything. It was truly unbelievable if Mya Han’s ghost or soul was in the camp that night. One sure thing was that there are so many things I still didn’t know in this strange country.

Recently I went back to that area second time. All the insurgents had been driven out and the area now was peaceful. At the old camp hill a small pagoda built by the army was still standing there and the soft chimes of pagoda bells now pleasantly serenaded the peaceful scenic hill.

There I prayed for Private Mya Han’s once wandering soul to rest in peace forever.

First Deadly Encounter with KNU First Brigade

I’d stationed in Ka-ma-maung more than three years from 1968 to 1971. Even though the town was in Karen State there were more Burmese than Karens living in that town. People said the town was populated originally by the old Burmese soldiers from King Alaungphaya’s army then marching into Thailand.

After a three year long garrison duty in Ka-ma-maung I was moved back to the battalion HQ in Pharpun. From there I was sent to fight the KNU First Brigade in the region north of Thahton. The KNU Brigade CO then was Kyaw Hoe and he was a very aggressive one in the battles against the army.

I had to say I was really lucky with my Karen connection. At the beginning my first posting was in Karen State. Then I met a Karen girl and married her later after abandoning all my Burmese girlfriends. And for over ten years I’d fought KNU in that region.

Then when I became a colonel and CO of a MOC (Military-Operation-Command) I was posted into LID (Light-Infantry-Division) 33 and ended up in Karen State fighting my old friends KNU again till 1995 when I was transferred into the Civil Service.

So I could say my soldier life began in Karen State and ended in the Karen State. Maybe it was my fate and this following story was my first deadly encounter with the First Brigade of KNU.


Karen Districts Map.
One day in October 1968. The place was our usual Ka-taing-ti army camp at the Ka-taing-ti village on the Pharpun-Kamamaung Road. Time was about one in the afternoon.

I was on the garrison duty with two platoons of HQ Company there. I was a brand new second Lieutenant and the acting Company CO since the CO Captain Htun Yee was on a trip to Ka-ma-maung.

That day, while I was resting and reading a book after lunch I heard the sound of small arm fires from about one and half miles south-west of the camp.

“Bang, bang, bang, trat, trat, trat, bang, bang,”
“CSM Saw Ba Htun, those are small arm fires! What the hell is going on? Let’s go there!”

Together with CSM and a platoon of men I rushed to where the gun fires were heard from. Then CSM told me that the police Chief and his men from the Ka-taing-ti police station were on a hunting trip in that direction. So we followed the jungle trail just outside the police station and traced the clearly visible prints of police jungle boots on the track which was still soft from recent rains.

We didn’t need to go too far. The trail had followed the meandering Kanyindon creek around and about 1,000 yards from the village we found the bodies of our policemen on the ground at the edge of a sugarcane field. All together five bodies naked as the enemy had even taken their uniforms after the devastating ambush.

“Sons of a bitch, even peeling off the uniforms, mother fuckers,” CSM Saw Ba Htun was really angry.

Enemy appeared to have taken positions in the shallow ditch just after the log bridge over the narrow creek. About 10 of them hiding in the ditch. And they fired point-blank at our policemen once they had just crossed over the creek.

The rest of them KNU, about 30 or 40 or even 50, were spreading in the Pyinkadoe forest at a short distance just beyond the creek. A perfect ambush taking advantage of the best possible terrain for a surprise attack against much weaker enemy. 

“CSM, come look! Chief Chit Tin has his intestines spilling outside?”

I had never seen a battle fatality before and that was my first time seeing the mutilated bodies with gunshot wounds. So when I saw the police chief’s gruesome corpse I had to yell out to the CSM.

“These aren’t intestines, Captain. These are pieces of brain out of his head.”
“I don’t know, I thought it was his offal,” I was embarrassed.

Enemy might be at least 70 strong according to their positions. All the spent bullet casings were from M1 carbines and G-3 automatic rifles, all small arms and not a heavy weapon was used there.

BA-63 or G-3 Rifle.
We brought the bodies back to the police station inside the Ka-taing-ti village. Once in the station the wives of the killed policemen wept like hell after seeing the naked and bloodied bodies of their husbands. Chief Chit Tin’s wife was worst affected. She was over 50 and not that well and she fainted several times while crying her lungs out beside her husband’s mutilated and naked corpse.

I didn’t really know what to do with the corpses, so I radioed to CO Captain Htun Yee and sent the corpses in a car to the Ka-ma-maung Hospital. It might have startled the townsfolk there and the Brigade Commander who was visiting Ka-ma-maung at that time was very angry with me. But I was at Ka-taing-ti. So he took it out on Captain Htun Yee and Captain Aye Kyaw, the Company Commanders in Ka-ma-maung.

“You guys accepting whatever that idiot Second-Lieutenant does! What’s the point of sending the corpses down here? They could have been quietly buried there in Ka-taing-ti. Just frightening the townspeople for no valid reason at all.”

.30 M1 Carbine.
And I got seriously reprimanded later by Captain Htun Yee when he came back up to Ka-taing-ti. Luckily for me the matter had finished just there. But I was still unhappy about the ambush and started investigating.

I gathered the village elders from Ka-taing-ti and the neighboring villages and the remaining policemen and asked.

“So who did our Chief Chit Tin and his policemen? You all have to help me!”
“Oh Captain, we all knew. It was Kyaw Hoe’s group from KNU First Brigade. I warned   Chief no to go out to Pha-do. I told him Kyaw Hoe was there. I knew it from my wife’s relatives in Shwe-yay. But he wouldn’t listen. I only survived because I was at the last and I ran like hell,” said the Karen policeman Saw Chit Po the lone survivor only because he didn’t cross the log bridge across the creek that day.
“Our Chief was led there by Saw Ne Lin from Baw-kyo-lai and Saw Tha Gay from Lay-pho-hta. They told our Chief about the wild pigs in that sugarcane field. So many pigs to hunt. They lied to him. They tricked him,” Loyal Saw Chit Po opened up.
“I tried to stop our Chief. I said don’t believe them Karens. I told him I’d been there so many times. There were no pigs in the sugarcane field. But he wouldn’t listen.”
“Who is Kyaw Hoe? What rank?” I asked them.
“Chief of First Brigade. Htain Maung is Chief of Seventh Brigade.”

In that fight KNU took 5 rifles and one revolver from us. Since the total security of that area was under my command it was the defeat at the opening battle of my lifelong fight with KNU.

“Son of a bitch Kyaw Hoe, just wait and see, I’ll get you,” I promised myself and not that long after he got me again.


Ka-nyin-don police station on the vehicular road from Ka-taing-ti camp was at about two miles south from Ka-taing-ti village. There were 12 policemen and one Chief stationed there. Ka-taing-ti Police Station was 24 men strong.

Two weeks after their ambush killing 5 policemen from Ka-taing-ti Station, more than 50 insurgents from same KNU First Brigade raided the Ka-nyin-don Police Station. It was night and somehow they knew the password for that night. And they killed Chief Saw Lone and 5 of his policemen there. The rest ran to survive and KNU took a Bren gun and 7 rifles.

Kyaw Hoe had discovered our soft spot and killing our men at will. The Brigade Commander of our 11th Brigade was not happy at all.

“What the hell is going on? Whenever they attack we suffer like hell. Are you guys doing anything to revenge our losses?”

As usual his targets were the Company Commander Captain Htun Yee and me, the Platoon Commander. But we couldn’t do anything as we were stretched to our limit just to secure the towns and villages. We couldn’t spare any troops to chase them and thus they played us in whatever ways they liked.