In The Shadow of War
The photographs in this series were taken on the Thailand/Myanmar border between 2018 to 2023. This story documents the lives of ethnic Karen people, one of Myanmar's largest ethnic minorities. The Karen in eastern Myanmar has been deeply affected by a prolonged armed struggle and civil war for over seven decades that began shortly after Burma's independence from Britain in 1948.
Since the February 1, 2021 military coup, conflict has intensified in ethnic areas like Karen State, as well as spreading across Myanmar, to places like Sagaing, Magway, and Karenni state where there was little or no previous fighting. In Karen State, the Burmese military has conducted airstrikes against the Karen National Union (KNU), one of Myanmar’s strongest armed groups, in retaliation for sheltering political dissidents in their territory. The airstrikes and repeated army attacks have caused massive suffering for Karen civilians in the area. The wave of intense fighting has also triggered an influx of thousands of refugees into neighboring Thailand. Once across the border, the refugees face great hardships dealing with the Thai authorities who are reluctant to accept them. Frequently those displaced are pushed back across the border into a warzone.
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First of all, I must humbly say that it is my honor to document the people of Karen State in Myanmar.
When I started in 2018, this issue received less attention in the mainstream media, especially in Thailand and among Thai society.
At the time, I was following the story of Saw Oo Mu, a Karen activist who was gunned down by the Burmese military as they invaded his hometown. He was one of the founders of the Salween Peace Park, a native initiative to protect their natural resources, cultural heritage, and from Burmese military attacks in northern Karen State.
Their homeland was disturbed by Burmese development projects such as road construction and dam projects planned along the Salween River, which linked to skirmishes and land grabs.
Shortly after the coup in 2021, for the first time in twenty years, regime fighter planes dropped bombs. Thousands fled into the surrounding jungle and many fled across to Thailand.
My motivation began when I became interested in environmental issues and spent time learning about the cultural differences and way of life with the Thai Karen community in the mountainous regions of Chiang Mai. The people are known as role models for conservationists, living their lives in harmony with nature and having a good heart.
Later, I expanded my interest in getting to know these people better in their homeland. This is the beginning of my journey to this region of the Salween River, southeast Asia's last free-flowing river on the border between Myanmar and Thailand.