about karenni state

The Karenni are an indigenous ethnic minority from Karenni state in Burma who have been engaged in ongoing civil war with the Burmese government since 1948, when Burma gained independence from Britain and Karenni state was forcibly incorporated into the independent Union of Burmese states. There is no definitive classification of the subgroups of the population native to Karenni, but they have been divided in an anthropological study into the Kekhu, the Bre, the Kayah, the Yangtalai, the Geba, the Zayein, and the Paku. Historically they were considered a sub-tribe of the neighbouring Karen, whom they are related to linguistically. The population includes Burmese and members of other ethnic minorities and others who have settled in Karenni state. Other ethnic Karenni reside or are internally displaced in other states in Burma, or are refugees or illegal immigrants living in Thailand and elsewhere.

In 1998 Karenni state had a population of 207,357 and a sparse, mostly rural, population density. Due to internal conflict, inaccessibility, mountainous terrain and a sparse population and resources, it is lagging in terms of economic development and infrastructure and is considered one of the poorest areas in Burma. There are seven townships - Loikaw, Demawso, Pruso, Pasuang, Bawlake, Meh Set and Shadaw. Land ownership is fragmented and a significant proportion of the population is landless. There is some wet paddy farming close to the rivers but most crop farming, predominantly of rice and maize, is upland shifting paddy cultivation, which has lower yields than wet paddy. The largest natural resource is teak forest; long extracted and traded and critical historically to power relations and the development of conflict in the area. There is a history of cross-border trading, logging, and mining with Thailand.

Karenni state suffers from chronic water shortages and upland villages are dependant on rain fed agriculture. There are two main rivers – the Salween and the Pon. In 1967 Mobye dam was constructed on the Balu Chaung River, a tributary of the Salween, on the border of Karenni and Shan states to divert water to the Lawpita hydroelectric power plant outside of Loikaw, which supplies over 20% of Burma’s electricity. Due to inaccessibility and ongoing conflict, Karenni is behind in terms of human development, with the lowest literacy rates in the country, just ten high schools in the state and many children in remote areas having little or no access to education at all. The overall health situation is poor, communicable diseases such as malaria are widespread and many people lack access to health services, particularly outside of the main towns.