For 60 years, in the midst of the hostile South Burman jungle, the Karen people have fought a desperate war for survival. They are an ethnic minority in a country which does not tolerate difference; they also live amidst valuable ruby mines and teak forests. Since the Burmese capital was moved south from Rangoon, the military junta has targeted them for eradication. This is the powerful & haunting story of a secret genocide.
“They shot one of my neighbours dead on the spot. Another I heard had his head cut off.” This woman has spent her whole life fleeing the Burmese Army; but since the Junta moved the capital out to rural Pynmana, close to the Karen homeland, life has become intolerable. “They destroyed our food stocks, our paddy fields. Worst, they killed my granddaughter after they had brutally raped her. I don’t have a reason to be happy anymore.”
We have accompanied a small contingent of the Karen National Liberation Army on a mission to bring aid to a small, threatened Karen village. Colonel Nadah Mya commands the KNLA. Western educated, he has returned because he believes the junta intends to eliminate his people, “The Burmese are carrying out what we call ethnic cleansing. We don’t want to fight, but we have to. The moment we give up there will be no Karen in this world.”
His words ring in our ears when we finally reached one of the scattered villages under KNLA protection. Speaking to the desperate people there, we are shocked by the sheer brutality of the Burmese troops. “Before they talk to us they torture us. They stick a gun into the mouth of each villager. Then do the same things with the grenades.” Elsewhere we hear, “they raped a mentally handicapped woman and left her to starve.” Another man tells us, “day to day life is difficult. We have gone through our medical supplies. They killed our cattle. They are starving us.” He is surrounded by the village children; they are skinny, ragged and covered in malnutrition boils.
The plight of Burma’s minorities is rarely spoken of in the West. The ruling military junta is famed for its secrecy and intransigence. The Karen are “fighting to stop genocide, to bring back freedom, establish democracy”; their values are directly in line with those brandished with such zeal by the West. How do the Burmese authorities keep their operations secret?
Colonel Nadah explains, “Thailand is an important economic player for the junta. They have a cross border policy. If the Burmese attack us the Thais block supplies. If there is the slightest problem, the Thais put pressure on us.” There is also another issue, the Karen homeland is rich in teak and ruby mines, valuable global commodities. The Total Petroleum Company also runs gas pipelines through here.
Burma is a failing state - the economy in tatters, the population desperate; but still the military junta rolls on. The Karen, “dream of going back home and working our land,” ordinary Burmese dream of democracy, all are desperate for a change of government. But until the international community examines its indirect involvement with the regime, there seems little hope. “We have been forgotten by the world,” claims Colonel Nadah.