Hopes for peace as Myanmar’s Karen celebrate their NY

By Athens Zaw Zaw, AFP

YANGON–Myanmar’s ethnic minority Karen rung in their New Year with song, dance and traditional kickboxing, in celebrations a day before fresh efforts to reach a ceasefire to end the country’s myriad rebel conflicts. Tens of thousands of people, many in bright traditional clothing, thronged through teeming Yangon streets, in a 3-day celebration ending on Monday. The Karen, who are Buddhist and Christian, have their own calendar and have officially celebrated their New Year since the 1930s. “I love my Karen people and value my ethnicity in my heart,” Sa Ye Kyaw Oo, an event volunteer told AFP. New Year events, marked by dance competitions and bouts of the country’s lethwei kickboxing, were also held across southeastern Karen state. The guns have largely fallen silent in the state after ethnic minority rebels waged one of the world’s longest insurgencies — although recent months have seen sporadic clashes linked to smaller rebel factions.

The conflict saw Myanmar’s army accused of widespread rights abuses that prompted tens of thousands of ethnic Karen to flee their homes, many into border camps in neighboring Thailand. “All ethnic groups have to take responsibility for the peace process if it is going to be really successful,” Mann Phoe Saw, an organizer of the festivities told AFP.