January 27, 2000

What leads young men and children to take such desperate action? As easy condemnation of ‘God’s Army’ mixes with a morbid celebration of the deaths of the youths who fought under its banner, we should at least have the humanity to ask why?
It is absolutely clear that Burmese pro-democracy groups and ethnic nationality communities do not condone the actions taken by ‘God’s Army’. But anyone who knows what is happening across the border inside Burma will at least be able to understand how a traumatised people, brutalised by a massive military machine, can be pushed to such extreme acts. Who knows the personal stories of those who were carried out of the Ratchburi hospital in body bags? Where our own children go to school, these young people would have had to fight hard for simple survival; where our children come home each day to the security of their families, Karen youngsters will have seen their villages burned and their loved ones murdered. Let us not be so quick to judge. If we are truly against violence it is our duty to understand that those who were killed were themselves victims of violence for much of the brief time they spent on this earth.
Recent news reports suggest that the youths treated the hostages well, had no intention of harming anyone, did not fight back and according to some witnesses were summarily executed after surrendering. Although we understand Thailand’s anger at the incident, it must also take its share of the blame. In joining forces with the Burmese army in its fierce attack on positions held by God’s Army and Karen civilians along the Thai-Burma border, the Thai 9th Infantry lit the fuse that led directly to the taking of Ratchburi hospital. If you peel away only one layer of the onion, it is clear that what on the surface might appear to have been a simple act of terrorism was in fact an appeal of the most desperate and human kind – for an end to the bombing.
However, ultimate responsibility for this bloody event must be levelled at its architects – Burma’s dictators sitting comfortably in their Rangoon villas, watching from a safe distance as the tragedy they wrote played itself out. Half a million ethnic nationality people, have been forced from their homes by the Burmese Army, their villages destroyed, their women systematically raped in a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign. Amnesty International has reported that:
“The Burmese army has devastated the lives of thousands of Shan, Karen and Karenni people by targeting them simply because of their ethnicity or perceived political beliefs. Many have been killed, others tortured, and thousands have fled to neighbouring countries… The military have forced thousands of civilians, including children, to work on massive building projects…”
Karen refugees tell of:
“Village burnings, constant demands for forced labour, looting of food and supplies, torture and killings by the military…Thousands of Karen villagers have also been forced off their land, unable to farm and provide for their families.”
The real tragedy of yesterday’s events is the story that isn’t being told and the questions that aren’t being asked. What terrible atrocities must this small child-led army have endured to resort to such an extreme action? The world must quickly start asking the right questions – they will find the answers to all of them lie with the Generals in Rangoon.

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