It reads like something from a best-selling international thriller.
A prominent military strategist, now a university professor, has revealed that for many years he has secretly been making regular trips to the jungles of Myanmar – formerly Burma – to advise the Karen National Liberation Army on guerrilla warfare tactics.
He is Desmond Ball, a professor at the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre in Canberra. Previously he has worked with the CIA, the Pentagon and the White House.
The Karen ethnic group, representing about 4 million of Myanmar’s 56 million people, has for many decades been harshly persecuted by the country’s ruling military junta. An estimated 25 per cent of the Karen are Christian, including much of the leadership of the Karen National Liberation Army.
Professor Ball’s revelation came in June on the occasion of the award to him of the Order of Australia, the country’s top non-military official honor. He also revealed that he was battling terminal cancer.
In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Professor Ball said his involvement with the Karen started when he learned of atrocities being committed against them by member of the Burmese army.
He told the interviewer: “A couple of particular guys were involved in taking large numbers of girl, raping them, mutilating them, and, when they’d finished with them, putting them in the bark and thatch huts and then burning the huts – burning the girls alive or just machine-gunning them.
“I was very uncomfortable with all of that and thought, ‘I just can’t go home and forget about this. I should be doing something.’ So I took my contacts with the armed groups another step forward in terms of working out operational techniques for in fact tracking down and getting rid of these guys.”
He has advised the guerrilla fighters on intercepting enemy radio transmissions, while enhancing the security of their own communications. He has also instructed them on how to initiate ambushes that would inflict maximum damage on the Burmese army, while minimizing their own losses.
“I’ve done things which do go well beyond what is done by a normal academic,” he told the interviewer. “But there is nothing there that I believe has been wrong and there’s nothing that I regret.”
Despite some recent democratic reforms in Myanmar, the Open Doors Christian organization this year ranked it at No. 23 on its annual World Watch List of the top 50 countries where persecution of Christians is most intense.
Indeed, conditions for minority ethnic groups such as the Karen are actually deteriorating, according to Professor Ball, with the military now engaged in wholesale land grabs for mineral and plantation wealth.
“We’ve seen in the last couple of years the first use of helicopter gunships against villages,” he told the interviewer. “We’ve seen the first use of jet fighter aircraft launching missiles against villages.”