The video above highlights some of the Karen Free City Projects in Karen State. These projects are administered by the Karen National Defence Organization and are located in Karen State (NOTE: "Kawthoolei" is the traditional Karen name for Karen State). The KNDO has been conducting humanitarian projects in Karen State for over a decade and there are various village projects such as Oh Kray Kee village, Maw Kee village and and Kawlami village in Duplaya District, Karen State. There are also various iniatives including schools and medical clinics established in these villages and also at Mu Aye Pu village. Mu Aye Pu is approximately 130 kilometres north of the Thai city of Maesot, Tak Province. Mu Aye Pu is also the resting place of General Bo Mya's gravesite and the high school there is named after General Bo Mya. These projects are examples of the potential to better the lives on the Karen people of which many thouands have been trapped in refugee camps since the mid 1980s. Today there remains over 90,0000 refugees in various camps along the Thai Burma border. Mae La refugee camp for example is located near Mu Aye Pu village and houses some 50,000 refugees. The KNDO Free City Project is a iniative to end this crisis of having refugees being forced to remain in camps without a decent future for decades. The time is now to bring a change to Burma and return the refugees to their ancestral lands.
Karen State is located in eastern Burma bordering Thailand and is a area historically occupied by the indigenous Karen People. The Karen traditionally lived in village societies - in the mountains, valleys and plateaus subsisting through hunting, gathering - and slash and burn farming. The Karen are comprised of various groups and subgroups distinguished primarily by language, with the two main dialects being Po and Skgaw Karen.
Traditionally these indigenous peoples were animists believing in a supreme spirit, a concept that would aid 19th Century missionaries in converting many to Christianity. Today the Karen are largely Buddhist and Christian while smaller numbers have retained their animist roots. The Karen are one of the largest ethnic groups in Burma with their current population estimated at over 9 million, with around one million in Karen State and the rest spread across southern Burma and western Thailand.
Historically the relationship between the lowland Burmese and ethnic nationalities - like the Karen, is one of long standing mistrust and hostility. The Burmese regime has defined this relationship by being one of the world’s worst violators of human rights having subjected the ethnic populations to decades of warfare and ethnic cleansing. During British rule the ethnic states for the Karen, the Shan, the Arakan, the Chin, and Kachin people were known as Frontier Areas, distinct from Ministerial Burma. In these outlying frontier regions over a dozen major ethnic nationalities remain today, openly resisting the Burmese military in over 20 political organisations and distinct ethnic armies. The ethnic nationalities actually, control most of Burma’s resource rich land mass – and in reality, lowland Burma is surrounded by ethnic populations and armed resistance groups, which the Burmese army or Tatmadaw has never been able to conquer.
In World War II, many ethnic peoples in British Burma joined the allies in fighting the Japanese. Whereas the Kachin, Chin and Arakan in the northern frontier served primarily with the Americans in units like Detachment 101, the Karen, served primarily with the British in units like Force 136. These units specialized in guerrilla warfare and the Japanese and pro Japanese Burmese Independence Army – often retaliated against the Karen population with brutal massacres. For their military support, the Karens had been promised autonomy by the British, but after Burma’s Independence the promises dissipated.
In 1947 an attempt to unify Burma was instigated by Aung San. However, from the frontier only three ethnic groups, the Shan, the Kachin and Chin would sign the Panglong agreement, which on paper, established the so called first Burma Federal Union. Aung San was assassinated by political rivals on July 19, 1947 and ethnic violence continued as Burmese troops escalated attacks and massacres against the Karen population. It was a date marking the beginning of one of the world’s longest running wars and the formation of organised Karen resistance. In 1950 the first president of the Karen National Union Saw Ba U Gyi was killed in an Ambush by the Burmese military. The dictatorship was known under the acronym SLORC but in 1997 they changed their name to SPDC - State Peace and Development Council, but the new name had nothing to do with peace or development. Under the leadership of General Bo Mya the armed wing of the KNU, the Karen National Liberation Army waged an effective war of resistance against the Burmese army for decades. The invading Burmese army would however, transform eastern Burma into a battlefield as Ne Win instituted his infamous 4 cuts strategy. The four cuts saw over a million ethnic people forced from their villages with tens of thousands killed, thousands of ancestral villages destroyed and an entire people subjected to generations of warfare. Karen State however, is known as Kawthoolei.
Today in 2020 the Karen struggle continues as the Burman/Myanmar government continues to exploit the peace process and committ actrocities and exploitation of the Karen and other ethnic nationalities all across Burma. The KNDO however continues to support its people and will remain strong in order to bring ethnic unity and lasting peace to Burma/Myanmar. Today there remains over 90,000 refugees in various camps along the Thai-Burma Border.
ABOUT THE KNDO
Major General Nerdah Bo Mya is the son of the legendary Kational Union President General Bo Mya. General Bo Mya had fought with the British in Force 136 as an ally in World War II and later became the leader of the Karen People as president of the Karen National Union from 1976 to his retirement in 2000. Today Nerdah continues in his father's tradition in seeking freedom and self determination for the Karen people as head of the KNDO. The KNDO (Karen National Defence Organisation) was the orginal Karen defence organisation founded in 1947 and continues today as an important arm of the Karen National Union. For many years the KNDO under the leadership of Major General Bo Mya has initiated various humanitarian projects in Karen State. These include the Free City at Mu Aye Pu and other resettlement projects in Karen State along the Thai-Burma border. tam