Karen State, Myanmar – On January 4, Myanmar celebrates its independence day. The first 65 years of independence from the British Empire have witnessed a series of protracted wars with several ethnic groups fighting for sovereignty and autonomy.
Now that the country is undergoing a democratic transition initiated two years ago by the quasi-civilian government of President Thein Sein, several ethnic armed groups have signed ceasefire agreements with the military. For the first time in several years, there is some semblance of peace in the previously war-torn area of Karen state.
This year, thousands of Karen people welcomed the year 2753 of their calendar with a community party at the Border Guard Force (GBF) headquarters in Shwe Kokko Myaing village, near the Thailand border. The Karen calendar began in 739 BCE, when the Karen people believe their ancestors arrived to Myanmar. Wearing traditional clothing, they performed music with unique instruments and danced ancient rituals.
During this occasion, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) marched on the same field for the first time after several years of enmity. As a symbol of their commitment to the on-going peace process with the Myanmar government, they did not carry weapons during the parade.