During the 72 years of war against the dictatorship of the Burmese (Myanmar Army), the Karen keep following the 4 principles dictated by Saw Ba U Gyi a Karen lawyer and minister of the revenue during the era of British-Burma. After the independence of Burma, he became the father of the Karen rebellion and the founder of the KNDO the Karen National Defense Organization. He was killed in August 1950 and he still inspires the Karen revolution. The war started in 1949 and keeps going on today especially with today's strike against the Myanmar military that has sized the power illegally. The Karen army protects civilians in the Karen state against Myanmar soldiers.
Here is the 3rd part of a travel made years ago from Myawaddy town to deep inside the jungle of Karen state (Kaw Thoo Ley) to meet my friend the general. This is not the kind of travel that you can book in a travel agency, but when you have a chance to witness a part of history that is unknown to most of the world and your trip is arranged for you to be safe and at a moment of cease fire, you take the chance. At my arrival at the military base I was surprised to find two foreigners there, as I say in my previous post the girl was working for an N.G.O. and the man was a politician. After meeting with my friend the general and having a talk with the two foreigners, the sun was about to end the day it was time for us to have our diner. I was thinking that we will eat with many soldiers at what look like a refectory the general told me that we have a special dish, a baboon monkey meat, he ask me if it was OK for me to eat it, I reply "yes" even I never ate Baboon before or any other monkey but I understand that for them it was a dish of choice that is rare and only eat during big occasions also it is jungle and as there is no shop around so it is jungle food. Just after the general asked me about it the foreign girl start to complain to me that it was a problem for her as she was thinking that monkeys are like human. I told her that things are different here than back in the society and it was a big thing for them to invite us with the best. Finally she has not said a word at the table at the officer's mass and even take two plates of Baboon meat and I have to say that it was good, it taste different than all the meat I have tried in the past but good and I also take two plates of it and the man also. After eating and talking a few hours with the general playing guitar and singing at the end we were bring to a wooden jungle house and they told us that we can sleep here, they arrange for us some hammock and some thin mattress, so we (the three foreigners) have a nice place for sleep we were joined by a retired Thai soldier that I already met before in Thailand a very nice person that make people happy I already give him a name "Captain good mood" and even the general call him like that from time to time. I can tell you that when you wake up in the middle of the jungle and open your eyes on Captain good mood is a plus as he really take a good care of us.
After having a coffee with the team and the general and captain good mood, there was a lot of activity in the camp compare to the day prior. We were aware that today is a big day and many civilian invited will come for a military parade followed with a conference. Many groups of people were arriving at the base, some were coming from surrounding villages other (the most) arrive by boat on the river even some groups coming from Thailand and from the other side of Burma. Before heading to the parade the general offer me to record an interview of a veteran hero of the war. I took my camera and we conduct the interview on the terrasse of a little bamboo house. The veteran was a very old man that have join the army in 1949 when he was 17 years old, this man have seen the entire war and he has been on most of the big battles. It was very impressive to learn from the mouth of this veteran about how they have been fighting for so long in the jungle, about how he escaped the custody of the Burmese army. During the entire interview the general was translating both way. Then the time for the parade arrive so we warp up the interview and walk in the direction of the big field with many officers and another general. As we arrive to the big field we passes under a big sign with Karen the 4 principles for freedom by Saw Ba U Gyi (the founder of the KNDO the Karen National Defense Organization) and a design with the Karen flag with two M16 gun crossed and the slogan "United We Stand" behind the sign were 400 to 600 civilian people from many places in Burma and Thailand and on the side were many soldiers some with the parade clothing and some just as usual camo style. Then we walk to the other side of the field where only a little group of people were waiting, there was maybe 50 chairs for us (the VIP's) to seat among the officers. About 5 minute after we sat down all the soldiers in parade clothing took place on the field in 3 group of 24 soldiers each than they presented their weapon to their officer and the other general go to stand behind a desk and start a speech for the commemoration of the day "The Martyr Day" I can't tell you what he has said but I assume it was all about all the people who gave their life in this 72 years war. After the speech the parade started on a very military song than some girls wearing the white traditional tunic (only for non married girl) go to stand in two column and as the soldiers walk in between them they present a gift and some flowers to each soldiers.
After the parade we get back to the officer mass to eat when all the people were eating at the field refectory with the soldiers. This time we eat some wild goat and it was very good and as we seat at the officer'mass many people come to talk to officer some carrying a present or an envelop. After eating we went for a walk in the base until we were called to get to the conference. I sat in the middle of soldiers to take a few photos and quickly get out because I know that will be at least 2 hours talk in a language I am not understanding. During the evening same thing diner at the officers'mass and talk about this colorful day. The general told us that if we want to go for hunting in the jungle with them we need to wake up early, this is not a problem as when you are in the jungle you are living with the sun, so sleep early and wake up early.
Next day morning, same as the day prior wake up with captain good mood handling us a coffee and told us that we have to go next to officers'mass and get ready for hunting. The general arrived with a gun in each hand and put it on the table. Both of these gun has a little tripod under and at first look it seems to be guns for snipers or something like that. After having open both tripod the general told us that these two gun will be used for the hunt and add that the guy next to me (a soldier) will take one of the gun as he is a famous sniper with three Burmese officers taken down on his causality board. Officers are the most difficult target as they always in the back and never on the front line. This guy can stay 3 days in the same position in the hiding until he can get the shot at his target. I am not into guns but I can say that one of the guns is a kind of rifle but from its external aspect it look like a sniper gun maybe because both gun have a little tripod under and a a viewfinder on the top, the other gun is a kind of machine gun that reminds me the M16 in the shape but more modern. The general told us to keep camera and other non waterproof device and papers at the camp because the weather wasn't looking good and we will possibly face some rain and in the jungle after 15 min of rain it is not surprising to get stuck in the mud at knee level making the walk a nightmare. The general grab the other gun and we are on our way walking along two mountains. These two gun are high velocity weapon and are use to get targets from far but it is not like other guns it not leave a hole but instead can easily cut a person in two pieces, especially with the kind of bullet they use in these gun. He told me that him or his soldiers will better get the head of the animal than the body as it is very damaging for the meat.
We have been walking for about two hours in a beautiful jungle and mountain landscape, walking in line and really many time I have memories of Vietnam war movies coming to my mind only helicopters missing but I have this feeling of picture already seen. There was one soldier opening the walk followed by the sniper guy than the general, me and the two other foreigners and another four soldiers behind. After entering another jungle part with the opener cutting the branches with his machete to make the way for us, he made the signal with his fist to stop a few times than for a minute or so we were listening at the sound of the jungle and its animals. As we look around I can't see anything that is a potential target but the general put his hand in front of me and I saw the sniper moving forward in front of the opener, he was walking slowly and bend a little than after looking at a distance and moving another meter or so he point his rifle, I was looking in the same direction than the rifle but still can't see anything and after he adjust his rifle he took the shot and just after the opener and the general say something and look kind of happy, so I knew that he got it, but what it was? Sniper and opener were both kind of running and jumping to get close to their target and we all followed behind. Than after walking two minutes or so we arrive next to the body of a kind of strange cow that I never see before, after asking the general about it he told me that it was a Banteng (a wild jungle cow) from what I was seeing it was shot dead as a big chunk of its neck was missing from the bullet impact. Very quickly all the soldier were around it and start to put some rope around the body but the general told me that it wasn't the solution to carry it back to the camp even in smaller pieces but instead a soldier took his walkie-talkie and ask the camp to come with one elephant to carry the body back at the camp. We all pull the rope until we arrive at the walkway that is along the forest. We let the body there with two soldier and walk back to the camp. We arrive at the camp around noon and have a meal at the mass, than after that it was time for a little sleep as the day was hot but without sun but mist and very high humidity. Later that day I was walking in the camp to take a few pictures when I arrived were a few soldier were about to cut some meat around the body of the banteng, it was already impossible to say that it was a banteng as it has been cut already and pieces were missing.
To be continued...
Today's situation. Since the take over from the SPDC (Burmese army) last February, after the military lose the elections that was won by the NLD (The National League for Democracy) the party led by Peace Nobel price Aung San Suu Kyi. On February first 2021, one hour before the new government led by Aung San Suu Kyi took office the military took action against all new elected officials and arrest them. Since then all the country is against the military junta who has already abuse of their power many times in the past and have led the country to extreme poverty, genocides, mass murder and so on... The entire country of Burma (Myanmar) is now a big battle field where people are fighting the unlawful army. The Karen army was the first to enter the fight against the Burmese army followed by the Kachin, the Shan and other ethnic armies. Many young students are joining all these ethnic armies to receive education about weapons and war technic creating many little armed group all over Burma. It is now a civil war and the head of the ousted government ask the people to fight the Burmese army. Since the beginning there is many documented exaction done by the Burmese army, like murder, torture, rape... also at the moment the COVID cases are high but the army is stilling oxygen from the few hospital that remain. The Karen have taken a few Burmese bases but their bases are now bombed by the Burmese. Many refugees try to enter Thailand, India and China but with the corona-circus in the region things are very hard for all. I don't know for you but I can see a kind of pattern happening right now in many country all around the world, a very authoritarian way of governing that use the sanitary situation as an excuse.
Hope for the best and prepare for the worst...