By Cory Wright
Since gaining formal independence from the United Kingdom in 1948, Myanmar’s (also called Burma's) numerous ethnic tribes have clashed with the military-led government. One group, the Karen people, have fought for independence since 1949, in what is considered the country’s longest civil war. They call their narrow strip of territory in the country’s southeast “Kaw Thoo Lei” or “peaceful land”—even though it is anything but.
As an economically and strategically signiﬁcant region bordering Thailand, the government is not keen on letting it go. For decades the government attacked, torched, and littered Karen villages with landmines to prevent residents from returning. The violence has taken its toll, and many villagers face economic hardships and a lack of basic services and support. Despite this, the Karen have fought back; they have rebuilt their villages and used an old arsenal of weapons, along with crude, homemade landmines to protect their territory and people. Then in October of last year, the Karen National Union, a political party, signed a peace agreement with the government. Party Chairman Mutu Say called the deal “a new page in history.” So far, the fighting has stopped, but the question remains whether Kaw Thoo Lei will live up to its name in the coming years.
CORY WRIGHT is a photographer based in Australia.