In Myanmar hopes for peaceful, democratic progress have faded. The Southeast Asian nation is now mired in conflict and chaos. Decades of poor governance and repressive military rule created a climate of violence, human rights abuses and chronic poverty. Steps towards democratic change were dashed when the military seized power in a coup on February 1, 2021. Thousands of civilians have been killed as fierce resistance from newly formed militias and ethnic armed groups are now waging guerrilla warfare on multiple fronts across the country.
In the town of Demoso in Kayah State, destroyed buildings and empty streets testify to the intensity of the clashes. Most of the area is under the control of the armed wing of the government in exile and the Karenni Army that has been fighting the armed forces of Myanmar, the Tatmadaw, for over 70 years.
Maw Soe Myar* is no ordinary child. She is only one year old but her world has been turned upside down by the cruelty of a regime that plunged her country into violence and uncertainty, forcing thousands of families like hers to flee. Gone are the familiar voices of neighbors echoing through the village; gone are the bright colors of the floormats in her home, and the whispers of her parents rocking her to sleep at night. What remains is the silent, somber look of her mother, Maw Pray Myar*, as she carries her across rocky valleys, through teak forests and tall, sharp, elephant grass that scratches her skin. Every step is a calculated move for fear she might trip and hurt her baby girl. They cross the Salween River and venture into a thick bamboo jungle, towards the border with Thailand, to safety. Here hundreds of displaced families have found refuge from the regime’s brutal crackdown.
In another IDP camp not far from Demoso, a woman voices her worries while keeping an eye on her three children playing beneath a clear blue sky. “We always live in fear of airstrikes by the military. We know it is easy for them to attack civilians. That is what they do.”