In the far reaches of eastern Myanmar lies Karen state. The Karen people and other ethnic groups around the outskirts of the country have been subject to violence at the hands of Myanmar's military, the Tatmadaw, since Burmese independence in 1948.
Most recently, since Myanmar's February 1st coup of 2021, Tatmadaw air raids upon Karen villages forced some 40,000 ethnic citizens to flee into the jungle for safety, while gun and mortar fire upon villages, rice fields and livestock has made life unbearable for the local population.
Because of this ongoing violence, and because each group has its own very clearly defined sense of cultural identity, it has long been the dream of many of the ethnic communities in Myanmar to achieve independence, formalising their ethnic individuality on an international scale.
As peaceful protests against the coup by Burmese citizens inside Myanmar's cities were met with deadly military crackdown, thousands of people were sent fleeing for their lives into the peripheral states around the country, including Karen.
Now that the cities' citizens, who face Tatmadaw brutality for the first time in over a generation, are suffering violence similar to that which has been long endured by the country’s outcast ethnic groups, the country’s population has been rapidly uniting against the military regime.
This has resulted in the formation of a People's Defence Force - a countrywide civilian movement which is taking military action against the Tatmadaw.
While resistance to the Tatmadaw has formed inside Myanmar in the past, it has failed because of inter-ethnic grievances and fears of reprisal. But now that there is a unifying cause, is an uprising something that can be sustained? And if so, have the long-oppressed ethnic groups of Myanmar finally found their chance to win their long-sought independence?
The following images depict the Karen people as they rise up to this unprecedented opportunity for recognition of their ethnic identity.
The land traditionally inhabited by the Karen people falls either side of the Thai-Myanmar border and is divided by the River Salween Donations are brought across from the Thai side of the river to Uh Er Klo village on the Burmese side Donations of food and daily necessities have increased since the beginning of the February 1 coup because of military blockades which are preventing the transportation of supplies along the usual routes within Myanmar and from Thailand
Farm animals graze for food in Koh Meh Loh Ki As part of a campaign to deprive villagers of food livestock has come under attack from Tatmadaw soldiers based in satellite bases scattered throughout Karen State Nah Moo Che a farmer from the neighbouring village Nyah Beh Ki has badly suffered from the Burma Army s presence It would have been better for me if they had just shot and killed me I wouldn t have to suffer like this anymore I only had 8 cattle and I yearn for the things which I have lost
KNDO and Arakan army soldiers patrol the Mutraw district countryside in Karen State With decades of experience in fighting against the oppressive Burma army regime resistance groups from all over Myanmar send their soldiers to train within the ranks of Karen s military wings
An IDP woman hangs out her washing at her newly-constructed home in the jungle outside her village Dae Pu Noh Her neighbour at the jungle camp Soh Ti Htoo complained about their current living conditions There are a lot of mosquitos here in the jungle And back home there s a lot more open space compared to where we are now so our clothes were able to dry quicker back home
A wooden toy gun is left lying abondoned in a home which had been badly damaged by a Burma Army airstrike in Dae Poh Noh Karen State In such a remote part of the world where industry and jobs are scarce and there is an ever-present threat of the Tatmadaw violence children in Karen grow up with a very normalised view of becoming a soldier
An Arakan Army soldier cleans his rifle as other soldiers relax inside a KNDO Karen National Defence Organisation outpost in Mutraw district Karen State Formed in 1947 the KNDO is one of two armed wings inside Karen which is mandated to protect the Karen s citizens and land from Tatmadaw aggression
Two elephants stop at a loading bay in Ti Wah Kah Tah Mutraw district Since the majority of the villages within Karen state are linked only by narrow jungle footpaths elephants are used to transport heavier goods from one village to the next
With no phone reception in the remote jungle village a resident of Nyah Beh Ki uses a walkie-talkie to keep tabs on the local security situation Sandwiched between two Tatmadaw outposts the village has suffered repeated harassment from the enemy soldiers As one villager testified they started shelling our villages so we had to hide in a bunker Many of the shells hit right around my home so I also had to run Then they proceeded to ransack and destroy any home which had been abandoned
Young residents of Dae Pu Noh enjoy a game of K Ball a highly popular sport in Karen which plays like a cross between football and volleyball
KNPF Karen National Police Force officers inspect the remains of a bomb which was dropped on Dae Pu Noh village in March during a Tatmadaw airstrike
A young man walks through the wreckage of Dae Pu Noh Number 1 Highschool which was destroyed by Tatmadaw airstrike in March The headteacher Saw Sah Muh Htoo has desperately been trying to get lessons back up and running for his students The strike hit the school offices as well as the school building itself so there was a lot that was destroyed computers printers batteries and solar panels were all gone It really caused some serious problems for us