|Funeral of Pado Mahn Sha, Karen Union Secretary, who was shot dead on 14 February 2008, allegedly by Karen splinter-cell members|
|A prosthetics workshop|
|Karen women washing at the well in Pa Du La Ta Village, a relatively safe area protected by the KNLA|
|Like many others at the Mae la Oon Refugee Camp, the three youngsters in the front row were born in the camp|
|A patient at Mae Tao clinic in Mae Sot, Thailand|
Karen National Liberation Army representatives guarding against attacks from the Burmese Army
For the past thirty years, millions of Karen villagers in Burma have been living a precarious existence, regularly being displaced from their huts into the surrounding forests and state-controlled relocation sites. All the while, the Karen have continued to struggle against a military-run state that exerts absolute control over their movement, land, farming, produce and every other aspect of their lives.
The Karen are an ethnic minority living in the forestlands along the Thai-Burmese frontier, who trace their lineage back to Tibet. Since 1948, when Burma broke free from British rule, the Karen have been fighting for independence through an armed group, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), overseen by the Karen National Union (KNU). This makes the Karen struggle one of the longest wars for independence in the world today. As can be seen in the accompanying photographs, of the current estimated population of around seven million, 1.5 million have been displaced from their villages by the Burmese junta, under the threat of forced labour, rape and landmines. A number of refugee camps have sprung up on the Thai side of the border, the largest of them housing more than 50,000 inhabitants. There, the Karen might be safe, but they again enjoy next to no freedom, since the Thai government is reluctant to acknowledge them as refugees. Today, their survival depends on international aid and volunteers.
Several attempts have been made to conclude a form of peace with the junta, but these have met with little success. In 2004, peace talks yielded only an informal ceasefire, which the regime utilised to reinforce its military frontline. Analysts had long been warning that this seemed to be a ruse on the part of the generals; and sure enough, offensives against KNU-held areas have recently resumed in earnest. In February 2008, Pado Mahn Sha, a widely respected KNU leader who was trying to reach a new ceasefire agreement, was shot dead in his house by members of a Karen splinter cell that has joined hands with the military. Meanwhile, as the KNLA progressively loses ground in Kawthoolei, what the Karen people call their homeland, the hope for a true homecoming becomes ever more distant.