Editor’s note: Claymore’s career took many interesting twists and turn. His first article for TFB, about the rare AK rifles he discovered deep in the jungle, can be read here. This article discusses his interaction with child soldiers, a sensitive subject. Neither the author nor this blog endorses the use of children in war.
Disclaimer by the Author: I do NOT agree with the use of “child soldiers” and in this story the bodyguard is 16 (even if he doesn’t look it). When we go into an area like this it is a diplomatic tightrope. If we tried to push our views on to them, misunderstandings might cause problems. We discretely told the leadership our concerns but this is their “way of life” and the kids are not forced to join, they join willingly to help their family. What effect our concerns had on future behavior is unknown.
Steve was kind enough to invite me back for more stories from my “history” so here is today’s adventure.
In my last article we were just back from Pakistan and went into Laos. After my friend and I got back from that “adventure” we got another one of those calls. This time they were asking if we would like to do the same type work in Burma (I refuse to use the “new” name Myanmar).
Once when I was a little kid I was wandering around the library looking for something good to read a friendly librarian brought me a book on the Chindits, British soldiers in Burma fighting against the Japanese.
I started reading and was hooked, this was right up the alley for me, a lot of adventure. Growing up I read all I could find on the subject of the WWII Burma campaign. So I jumped at the offer to actually work in Burma.
After a long trip by air to a neighboring country, and avoiding “local watchers”, soon we were on our way traveling by local long tailed boats which gave us a good look at the scenery of the area.
The boat trip was very refreshing in contrast to the HOT local weather. We zoomed across the Salween River (see title photo) and landed at the Karen National Liberation Army HQ at Manerplaw, Burma.
We would be working primarily with the Karen sect and their “Army wing” the KNLA but there were a bunch of other groups in this same area as they were all working for the same goal of overthrowing the SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council), the dictatorial government in power.
As before we were doing training and evaluation of the fighters. Again I had the secondary job of weapon repair and recommendations. Being interested in firearms, especially what the USA calls “NFA” firearms, I really enjoyed this job.
One time when I was off training duty, while my friend took over teaching for an hour, I was walking the area scoping out any and all firearms I came across when this beauty caught my eye as it was the only “American type” weapon we had seen other than a few M1 Carbines.
You have to remember the time frame here was December 1992 and the Chinese copying of the M16 was then not well known so this was a great find for the time.
I tried everything to get the “soldier” with the weapon to turn it loose so I could get more photos and look inside but no dice. These guys had been well trained not to ever give up their weapon to ANYBODY but their officers as they were very hard to come by and very expensive so I had to honor his rules despite being a VIP.
Ammo was in such short supply, and this gun used a different caliber to the ubiquitous AK type firearms everyone else had, I wondered how much ammunition he was able to find for his gun. I asked him how many rounds did he have on him and he proudly said TEN.
It turns out to be a copy of the Colt M16A1 “Commando” made by China’s Norinco as you can see by their triangle logo on the receiver.
It has the “hump” on the lower part of the non-sliding stock, round front hand guard, and Norinco’s distinctive pistol grip.
I was able to ascertain that it had a non-lined barrel, non-lined chamber, no chrome bolt.
When we got back to the states I sent this off to the appropriate “agencies” and to my friend Bob Garassi who was then the ‘Military sales” manager at Colt. This was the first photo of this Colt had ever seen of the Norinco clones.
This time I took everyones advice in my last article to heart and searched “google” and still nobody has photos of this A1 version there are several photos of the newer A2 version and flat tops but none I can find of a A1 so possibly this is the first time this type has been seen in public.
The Karen (and all the other groups we worked with everywhere) were so afraid that we would be “lost to enemy action” on their watch they always assigned “bodyguards” or maybe you could call them “watchers” assigned to us.
One reporter for “Soldier Of Fortune” “Lance Motley” was killed by a mortar round slicing open his femoral artery while with the Karen close to this time. That was his only wound and they could not stop the bleeding and he slowly bled out while the Karen were rushing him back to the rear and a doctor. Lance knew he was dying and recorded his demise on tape while they were hauling him out. That is one tape that will raise goosebumps on anybody who has the misfortune to listen to it like I did sitting with Bob Brown in a spook hang out bar in Thailand at a later time.
As a side story this is our “Little bodyguard” who had the weapon possession when I took that photo. In this one he has the additional weapon in his hand his trusty slingshot in addition to the folding stock AKM slung over his back. That is me with the disfigured face.
The slingshot is actually used for food gathering as these guys are so desperate for food anything including tweety birds, rats, and just about anything that moves was shot and used for food.
So this is our story of the Chinese copy of the M16A1 Commando used by the KNLA in Burma during our stay. We happened to be there when all the groups of Burmese “freedom fighters” were having a big convention to try and work out their differences.
Sad to say it didn’t work out and several of the groups broke away from the umbrella group and went to work for the SLORC and Manerplaw was attacked and burnt to the ground.
But in recent times the SLORC has been disbanded and the current crop of Burmese generals running the government have backed way off and there is almost peace in the country, but some groups are still running and hiding from the new guys in charge.