Cory Wright A narrow, but well-worn path weaves its way from a Karen rebel military camp to a village in Myanmar. The Burmese government call this region Karen State, but the Karen people refer to it as “Kaw Thoo Lei” meaning “a peaceful land.”
Cory Wright Younger, less experienced soldiers begin the day by sweeping the entire Karen rebel camp with brooms of bamboo and straw in Karen State, Myanmar. Mounds of bamboo leaves are then gathered into small pits for burning.
Cory Wright Karen rebel soldiers move through a village after delivering supplies including cooking pots, blankets, and food donated by members of a church abroad. Many Karen are followers of Christianity, which puts them at odds with the Burmese Buddhist majority.
Cory Wright Rebels carve out a map to illustrate areas where they suspected the Tatmadaw has placed land mines near a village in Karen State, Burma (Myanmar). One rebel said, “Before the village was attacked (in 2006), we used to have a garden in the shape of a Karen flag with the letters ‘K.N.D.O.’ spelled out. We think they put mines under each of the letters after they destroyed the garden in case we tried to fix it.”
Cory Wright A homemade landmine. It consists of bamboo, AA batteries, copper wire, PVC pipe, pellets and explosive. The result is a crude, yet fairly effective weapon that forms a significant part of the arsenals of ethnic minorities defending their land against Tatmadaw attacks, and land grabs.
Cory Wright A white flag marks the corner of a field used by children to play soccer in Karen State, Myanmar. It also marks the boundary of an area that is safe to walk on. In the tangled jungle behind it the land has not been properly checked for landmines, and to the far right of the image is an area known to contain landmines that have not yet been cleared.
Cory Wright An unconscious child receives treatment for what is thought to be an allergic reaction or poisoning in a Karen village near the border with Thailand. In more remote areas of the country—without the proper medical treatment—others may not have been as fortunate as the child pictured here who regained consciousness shortly after this photograph was taken.
Cory Wright Karen children review the day’s lessons by candlelight at a boarding school in Karen State, Myanmar. Students come from surrounding villages to live for months at a time in order to study math, English, religion, and Karen.
Cory Wright Karen children play festival games as part of the 66th Karen Revolution Day celebrations, which mark the beginning of the Karen struggle for independence.
Cory Wright Karen girls take part in traditional song and dance during the Karen Revolution Day celebrations in a large Karen village near the border with Thailand.
Cory Wright Not far from the festival games and musical events, soldiers from different Karen rebel battalions square off in good-natured boxing matches under towering bamboo trees in a makeshift ring.
Cory Wright Crowds disperse following the last match of the night during Karen Revolution Day celebrations in Karen state, Myanmar.

Myanmar's Karen People Defend Their Land

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.

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