On Thursday, the Karen National Union (KNU), one of the world’s oldest insurgent groups, marked the founding of its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), on Jan. 31, 1949—an event commemorated every year as Karen Resistance Day.
Despite a now year-old ceasefire with the Burmese government—the first in the KNU’s history—the spirit of resistance lives on in KNU-controlled territory in eastern Burma, as these photographs by photographer Vincenzo Floramo show.
Speaking at the commemoration ceremony, new KNU Chairperson Mutu Say Poe, who played a key role in reaching last year’s historic agreement to suspend hostilities, made it clear that this was only a first step toward lasting peace.
“The current ceasefire is an endeavor for reaching the stage of political dialogue. However, in the current situation, we are still within the context of revolutionary armed resistance,” he said.
But despite the displays of military readiness, the event was not all about the ever-present possibility of war. Traditional Karen culture was also on show, highlighting the strong ethnic identity that has kept the Karen struggle alive for so long.
Underlining this strong bond among the Karen—who have suffered several episodes of internecine strife during their years of fighting for greater autonomy from Burma’s central government—members of an ethnic Karen Border Guard Force under the command of the Burmese army also attended Thursday’s festivities.
While a permanent end to the KNU’s struggle with the Burmese government remains elusive, it appears that for one day, at least, the Karen were at peace among each other.