Karen communities across Burma gathered on Tuesday to celebrate the 64th Karen Martyrs’ Day.
Saw Ba U Gyi, founder of the Karen resistance movement, was killed by the Burmese Army in an ambush on 12 August 1950. Each year, ethnic Karen people gather on the anniversary of his assassination to honour him and other leaders of the Karen independence movement.
The revolutionary, who became the first president of the eastern state’s governing body — known later as the Karen National Union — attained a degree from Rangoon University in 1925 before moving to London to study law. When he returned to Burma after passing the bar, Saw Ba U Gyi served in several ministerial positions prior to his death in 1950.
An event held in Rangoon on Tuesday was attended by about 300 people, many donning traditional clothing and wares unique to Karen culture.
Similar events were held in Karen State, where several of the fractured state’s ethnic armed groups — including the Karen National Liberation Army and the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army — hosted celebrations throughout their territories. One notable event was observed in Htokawko village, where Saw Ba U Gyi and other high-ranking rebels were slain.
Mutu Say Poe, chairman of the Karen National Union, sent a message to observers urging Karen people to uphold the four principles laid out by the movement’s founders: never surrender; retain arms; realise Karen autonomy; and ensure that Karen people determine their own political destiny.
Karen State in southeastern Burma has been at odds with the central government since 1949, originally aiming for independence and later calling for a federal system in Burma. The two sides reached several informal ceasefires over the decades, but clashes continued sporadically and much of the land remains scarred by leftover ordnance.
A fresh peace pact was signed in January 2012 as the country moves closer to achieving a nationwide ceasefire agreement, an historic pact that is expected to be reached later this year.