Karen News spoke to people attending New Year celebrations held at Border Guard Force headquarters on the Burma side of the River Moei to ask them what they wanted peace talks to deliver in 2014.
Thousands of Karen came the BGF headquarters at Shwe Kokko Myaing village in Myawaddy Township to celebrate Karen New Year in what was a highly planned festive occasion.
For the first time in decades, members of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) (formerly known as the Democratic Karen Buddhist army) marched without weapons as a symbol of their commitment to the on-going peace process with the Burma government.
Karen people traveled from villages and cities in Burma, from third country’s such as the United States and Australia to take part of the New Year ceremony that was marked by opening speeches from the KNLA’s General Jonny and the BGF’s Colonel Chit Thu. Traditional Karen dancing, singing was later followed by boxing and a parade.
Htet Min Lwin, from the government-supported Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) expressed his pleasure at the proceedings and said he hoped that 2014 would bring benefits to the economy in Karen State.
“I hope peace and prosperity will happen in Karen State. Unity is most important at this time and this celebration shows a sense of unity among Karen people.”
Ellen Minn-Minn, a humanitarian worker, said that despite past disunity and the “Karen having different views” today’s events demonstrated solidarity.
“We hope for a peace for our people – we are scattered because of poverty, social problems, conflict, but today we all get together.”
Naw Jenny, who works as an educator at the Thabaya Education Network, agreed.
“Karen New Year is a time when Karen from all over the world can see each other.”
Saw Hackett, a Karen actor and singer expressed optimism in the coming year despite the number of critical issues in Karen State – repatriation of refugees, development and environmental damage.
“As a Karen, I hope that all of our people will have a better life going into the future, more of an understanding of our fellow ethnic groups in Burma, and improved living standards.”
Saw Hackett said that Karen people still weren’t given a “fair chance” from the Government and that they “should get more opportunities.”