Despite Burmese Reforms, Conflict Continues in Karen State

Matt Saunders

While the world focuses on Burma’s upcoming elections, in eastern Karen State rebels continue a long-running battle against the Burmese army.  VOA talked to Karen soldiers and civilians about the war that began in 1949 and has since become a way of life.

There is a buzz in the air in Burma's Karen state as folks gather for the annual Karen Revolution Day in late January.  Unlike the new freedom on display in the nation's capital, people here are marking a grim toll of 63 years of fighting, instability and suffering.

Karen state has the distinction of being home to the longest ongoing armed conflict on the planet.  Colonel Ner Dah Mya blames the Burmese army.

“The SPDC have tricked us many times in the past.  Looking back in history we have been cheated by them many times since the beginning of the Karen revolution.  Right now if they are sincere for peace talks then they have to pull back their troops,” he said.

The political wing of the Karen resistance says attacks by the army have led to the displacement of nearly half a million people, and driven more than 140,000 refugees to nine camps along the Thai-Burma border.  Despite the hardships, many remain committed to the cause.

Paw La Man, 65 years old, veteran soldier, fighting for 40 years. “I want the Karen people to have peace in our state.  So I want the old and young generations to join and fight the Burmese soldiers together to protect our nation," he stated. "If we do not help each other against the enemy who else will come to help us?   The Burmese are trying to steal our land from us so we have to get it back.”

At first, the Karen were fighting for independence and later, in 1976, they began pursuing semi-autonomy within a federal union.

Karen political leaders have gone to the negotiating table at least five times seeking a cease-fire without success.  Kaw Kee La, 21, says it is now a generations-long struggle.

“Both of my grandfathers were killed by the Burmese soldiers ...  When I heard that both of my grandfathers had been killed by the Burmese soldier I became very angry and wanted revenge.  I am sad for what happened to them so I decided to pick up a weapon to fight,” he explained.

While Burma’s government carries out political reforms, the Karen people remain on alert, anxious to see if the government outreach will extend into the ethnic areas. 

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: ehtataw
March 30, 2012 7:42 PM
I hope some day the Karen people to get the freedom, because the have had bad situation the long time.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs