I spent a year sharing the life of the young Karenni men and women who joined the resistance against the Burmese military dictatorship following the military coup on 1 February 2021. I witnessed the fighting, the comradeship, and the grief. This region near the Thai border made international headlines when more than 35 people, including four children and two humanitarian workers, were burned alive by the military on December 24th, 2021. It is a stronghold of Catholicism in the Buddhist-majority country.
Karenni State, nestled near the Thai border, had long been a stronghold of Catholicism in the predominantly Buddhist country. The region garnered international attention when the military committed an unthinkable act of brutality on December 24th, 2021. More than 35 lives, including innocent children and humanitarian workers, were consumed by flames—a stark reminder of the lengths the military would go to maintain their stranglehold on power.
In the aftermath of the military coup on February 1, 2021, millions of people across the nation took to the streets, their voices echoing the resounding call for democracy. In response, the military unleashed a torrent of deadly violence, plunging the country into a state of terror. Homes were raided, and anyone suspected of supporting democracy faced arrest, a fate that befell over 17,000 individuals and continued to rise.
Tens of thousands of young people, disenchanted and disillusioned, left their homes behind, seeking refuge in the dense jungles. It was there, amidst the foliage and the whispers of resistance, that they would undergo military training. These young warriors, hailing from all walks of life—farmers, housewives, doctors, engineers—formed a formidable force, united for the first time by an unwavering determination to overthrow the military rule that suffocated their nation.
The military responded to this uprising with escalating brutality, attempting to crush dissent and consolidate its control over the country. But the resistance refused to be broken. Over 3000 civilians, including 276 children, had already lost their lives, while almost 700,000 people were forced to flee their homes, creating a staggering population of over 1.2 million displaced individuals.
I spent a year sharing the life of the young Karenni men and women who joined the resistance against the Burmese military dictatorship following the military coup on 1 February 2021. I witnessed the fighting, the comradeship, daily lives and the grief.