Clinging to Peace

Text and Photos by Kevin Connelly.

Along the banks of the Moei River in eastern Myanmar, also known as Burma, a woman named Naw Bee Po lives with her husband and 4 children in a small village. At first glance it appears to be a peaceful, tight knit community whose primary interests include education for their children, land to cultivate and water to fish. But beyond the quiet bamboo structures reveals a much grimmer past that the occupants are trying to forget.

For more than 60 years a civil war has raged in Karen State claiming thousands of lives, villages and families throughout the region. Only recently in 2012 was a ceasefire finally reached between the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Burmese military, also known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Some believed it was the newly installed democracy in Burma that was bringing about these sudden strides of peace in Karen State, others weren’t as optimistic. The ceasefire temporarily put an end to the skirmishes that were ongoing for years, but some fear that it may just be a ploy by the SPDC to advance their positions.

Naw Bee Po is one of the many IDPs in the area who has spent much of her life running from the SPDC. She worries about the increased number of SPDC troops around her village. “They are reinforcing their position everywhere,” says Naw Bee Po. “We thought the ceasefire would mean an end to troops in our area but we’re seeing more now than ever. They have broken their promises before, what’s to stop them from doing it again?”

Because of recent fighting and broken ceasefire promises in Kachin State, many Karen believe it will only be a matter of time before the fighting will resume in their homeland.

Kevin Connelly is an American documentary photographer focusing on human rights and social issues in Southeast Asia and around the world. He has worked with landmine victims, refugees, ethnic soldiers, migrant workers, and transgenders in Thailand, Burma, Laos and the Philippines. His work has been exhibited both in the U.S. and abroad and has been recognized by National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institute.

His recent self-published book entitled “Highway 105” documents the lives of Burmese refugees who fled their homes to escape the hardships of civil war in Myanmar.

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