Karen News Photo Gallery

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Ei Tu Hta is a camp for Karen people displaced by Burma Army attacks in 2006. Today, 10 years later, residents are concerned and worried about their futures as international food donors have said they will stop funding the camp from 2017. This has forced many of the camp residents, unable to fend for themselves off the poor farming land on the surrounding mountains to consider moving back to land that is land mined and occupied by the Burma Army.

People forced from their homes in eastern Burma by militarization have few choices. They either try to take refugee in neighboring countries or live as best they can in hidden, makeshift camps in jungles or on mountains slopes. These temporary shelters lack consistent crop growing land, schools, health care or food security. People have to be ready to run. Burma army patrols actively hunt displaced people, destroy their camps and order men, women and childen to force porter supplies in conflict zones. The following photographs taken by a Karen News reporter are a small selection of one such displaced community on the run.
The Thai Burma Border Consortium state in their 2009 report - Protracted Displacement and Militarization in eastern Burma - that as many as “…470,000 people are currently estimated to be internally displaced in the rural areas of eastern Burma alone.”

The TBBC report identifies landmines and Burma army patrols as the major and fastest growing threat to villagers. This is not surprising as the Burmese army has a third of its army stationed in eastern Burma, an estimated 235 battalions, at their lowest strength about 35,250 soldiers.

When the Burma military regime built a dam on the Swin Kyi River in 2010, eastern Karen state, more than 1,000 Karen people from nearby Ler Doh Township, in Nyaung Linbin district were displaced. Many of these villagers lost their established plantations and farms. The dam construction caused massive environmental damage, killing animals and forests.

Many of the Karen villagers who lost their homes took refuge lived in the jungle as displaced people. Ethnic Burman people from the Pago and Irrawaddy districts came to the area to work in a local goldmine and to fish in the Swin Kyi River. The area is under the control of the Karen Nation Union army. Most of the Burman transient workers have found work fishing, in the goldmines, some built small shops and others are trading goods. Maung Win Nyunt is a fisherman and has just been in the area for about a week said so far the signs are encouraging.

“Here there are more fish than in our homeland, if the work here is good, I will bring my family here”.

Saw Mort, a Karen News video journalist and photographer, bravely took his camera to the water soaked streets of Mae Sot to capture migrant workers celebrating the annual water festival.

On the Thai Burma border, the festival is celebrated by tens of thousands of migrant workers from Burma who know it as Thingyan. Many Thai factories closed during the holiday period with their migrant workers returning home to Burma. In the Thai Burma border town of Mae Sot many migrant workers joined in the water throwing.

Other workers like Ma Nwe had to work. She told Karen News that she had no choice she needed to work.

“I usually work as a daily labourer for around 130 baht a day without food. Hiring out inner tubes at the waterfall, my boss paid me 120 baht a day, but I also got three meals from her.”

Ma Nwe says she could not afford to take time off to celebrate the water festival, as she needs to work everyday.

The 15th KNU Congress began on November 26 at Lay Wah, Pa-an District, Karen State. The first secret ballot voting at this Congress began with the election of the 45 Central Standing Committee members. On December 21, from the 45 Standing Committee members, the KNU elected the top five positions – General Mutu Say Poe as chairperson, Naw Zipporah Sein as vice-chairperson, Padoh Saw Kwe Htoo Win as general secretary, Padoh Saw Thaw Thi Bwe as joint secretary 1 and Padoh Mahn Mahn as secretary 2.

Padoh Saw Ah Toe was voted-in as the KNU Chief Judge, but following a disagreement, the position was finally given to Padoh Saw Dot Lay Mu, who had received the second most votes.

Following the election of its five top leaders, together with its Central Standing Committee, the KNU elected General Saw Jonny, the former commander of the Karen National Liberation Army 7th Brigade, as its Army Chief. General Saw Baw Kyaw Heh, the former 5th Brigade Commander was elected as vice-chief- of staff (VCS) yesterday, December 24.

Hundreds of Karen people, many arriving by small riverboats, battled unseasonal rain, mud and cold in order to commemorate the 64th Karen Revolution Day. People watched on as KNLA’s 7th Brigade marched to the sound of music. The parade was followed with a performance of Karen traditional dancing and singing.

The following photo essay captures Karen people as they pay respect to their revolutionary heroes - the men, women and children who have struggled for peace and freedom.

The Karen National Union signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burma government two years a go that is still binding. Until the ceasefire the Karen fought Burma’s military government for over 60 continuous years, making the conflict the longest running civil war in modern history.

Karen News photojournalist Saw Mort spent time with landmine casualty Saw LahKyi, a Karen National Liberation Army soldier, who lost both legs when step on a mine in 2009. The Royal Thai Army estimates that the Thai Burma border is the region's most heavily landmined and according to the 2012 Landmine Monitor Report, Karen State has the most casualties caused by mines.

Every year since 2009, Saw LahKyi comes to the prosthetics department at Mae La refugee camp to renew his legs. Saw LahKyi had both his two legs blown off in 2009 when the Burma Army and a militia under its control, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, overran and occupied the Karen National Liberation Army, 7th Brigade Headquarter.

The 2012 Landmine Monitor Report states that from 1999 to 2011 there have been 3,242 landmine casualties in Burma and "in 2011 there were at least 381 new mine/explosive casualties."

Saw LahKyi, 40, was a corporal in the KNLA and says during the fighting in 7th Brigade many KNLA and DKBA soldiers were wounded or killed by landmines.

It is estimated that there are between three and four million migrant workers in Thailand. Seeking better wages and work opportunities than can be found in their homeland, more than half are from Burma. According to a 2011 report by the International Organization of Migration (IOM) an estimated 200,000 migrant children under 17 live and work in Thailand.

Burma has more than 500,000 Internally Displaced People (IDP's). According to the UNHCR, the number of IDPs grew by almost 21,000 last year.

They are the country's most vulnerable population. Displaced by decades of civil conflict, denied access to education, healthcare, jobs; many live in areas littered with land mines. Left to fend for themselves in remote areas, they are 'forgotten.'

This is the story of an IDP school in remote Karen State. It is a story about community banding together in hardship; where teachers are fed by the villagers, where spent Burma Army artillery shells are used as the school's lunch bell, where children sing Karen songs and perhaps dream of a brighter future. All too many bear the signs of over six decades of conflict, having lost limbs to land mines.

Each year in April Thais celebrate Songkran, a celebration ushering in a new year in Thailand with people throwing water, attending religious and cultural events and martial arts competitions. On the Thai-Burma border town of Mae Sot, where as many as 200,000 migrants from Burma live, Burmese migrants joined with Thais for a week of festive fun.

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