My husband and I meet with Karen refugees in Thailand, and know many who have moved to Europe and America. In Burma they are often kept very poor and not allowed good jobs in the city, they live in villages which are constantly harassed by both the Burmese and Karenni “armies” (really, gangs) for food and women.
“Civil wars have been a constant feature of Burma’s socio-political landscape since independence in 1948. This was largely the result of divide and conquer tactics employed by imperialists (British and Japanese) stationed in Burma during the pre-independence period.
The most widely publicized conflict in Burma during 2012 has been the 2012 Rakhine State riots, a series of ongoing conflicts primarily between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine State. The Burmese government has claimed that the Rohingya are illegal migrants however the ethnic group has lived in Burma for hundreds of years and despite practicing a different religion (Islam) than the majority Buddhist population, the roots of conflict likely have more to do with colonial era policies that privileged one ethnic group over another in an attempt to divide and rule the population. Additional non-religious causes include violence stemming from the Japanese occupation of Burma in World War II during which the British allied themselves with Rohingya groups who fought against the puppet government of Burma which had been set up by the Japanese and helped to establish the Tatmadaw or Burmese armed forces, fascist elements of which continue to rule to country to this day.
During 1943 and 1944, the BNA made contacts with other political groups inside Burma such as the communists who had taken to the hills in 1942. Eventually, a popular front organisation called the Anti-Fascist Organisation (AFO) was formed with Thakin Soe, a founder of the communist party in Burma, as leader. Through the communists and a Japanese-sponsored force known as the Arakan Defence Army, the Burmese were eventually able to make contact with the British Force 136 in India. The initial contacts were always indirect. Force 136 was also able to make contacts with members of the BNA’s Karen unit in Rangoon through agents dropped by parachute into the Karenni, the Karen-populated area in the east of Burma.
At the time of Myanmar’s independence in 1948, the Tatmadaw was weak, small and disunited. Cracks appeared along the lines of racial background, political affiliation, organisational origin and different services. Its unity and operational efficiency was further weakened by the interference of civilians and politicians in military affairs, and the perception gap between the staff officers and field commanders. The most serious problem was the tension between Karen Officers, coming from the British Burma Army and Bamar officers, coming from the Patriotic Burmese Force.
To this day the Karen/Karenni people and the Rohingya remain some of the most persecuted minorities on Earth; thanks to Anglo-American Imperialist policies of divide-and-conquer.
The Karenni are majority Buddhist. Some Christian, and a few Muslims, also exist. Others are practicing native traditions unrelated to Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity or Islam. The Karenni ethnic conflict is a major reason for the persecution of religion in Myanmar.