A stretch of road running along the Thai-Burma border, Highway 105 has witnessed the effects of oppression, civil war, protests, military crackdowns, and resistance over the last 60 years.
Once a relatively quiet stretch of road, Highway 105 has seen the construction of military headquarters, refugee camps, schools, orphanages and non-government organizations to help combat the influx of those fleeing Burma to escape the military's brutal and oppressive tactics.
Just across the border of Thailand lies a mountainous region known as Karen State. A people of mostly Christian faith, the Karen have been oppressed by the Burmese for decades and are currently involved in one of the longest civil wars in history with the Burmese military, also known as the State Peace and Development Council(SPDC). The conflict in Karen State has caused thousands to flee to neighboring Thailand to avoid fighting, forced labor, forced relocaion, torture, and/or death.
Those oppressed by the SPDC does not end in Karen state however. Since 1962, when the military seized power from an unstable government, the country has seen a large majority of it's inhabitants struggle against a regime which was bent on absolute control of it's people. This dominant force to control caused the formation of several ethinc armies to combat the SPDC including the Karen National Liberation Army, the Shan State Army, the United Wa State Army, the Kachin Independence Army, and Karenni Army.
It wasn't until 2010 that the military began to recognize the country's desire for a new era. Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest and elections were held(although many deemed them fraudulent) where a general parliamentary government was instituted. Since that time, mass reforms have swept the country allowing freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to vote in open democratic elections. Many are finally beginning to taste the freedoms they have been fighting so hard to achieve.
Highway 105, on the other hand, has seen little, if any, real change. Although many armed groups have reached cease-fire agreements and are currently working towards an end to the war, no real peace has been officially agreed upon. The future of the area is still very uncertain.
My goal is to revisit Highway 105 in January and document the people and issues that have been affecting this region for the past 60 years and to tell the stories of those who have not yet been heard. Throughout my 40-day journey between Mae Sot and Mae Sariang, Thailand, I will be traveling solely on foot to document the region. I believe walking is an appropriate means of travel considering many of those who made it to the region did so on their own two feet. I will make several stops along the way in refugee camps, military headquarters, clinics, schools, villages, and more. I will try to speak to as many people as possible, representing a vast range of ethnic groups, religions, and beliefs.
At the conclusion of my travels I will arrange a book of images and interviews I conduct along the way. The goal is to allow the reader to gain an understanding of the area's complex issues and diverse peoples. The region has grown to be a passion of mine and I hope to share that passion with as many people as possible.
Thank you so much and please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.
Risks and challenges
Because of the sensitivity of the area, there are several places I will be visiting which are forbidden to foreigners, i.e. refugee camps and military headquarters. However, I have met some great people over the years who have allowed me entry to these areas and will make it very easy for me to return back again.
I will also come through a few stretches of road where I know I will be unable to find accomodation so I will be bringing along my unstoppable Hennessey hammock which I can string up just about anywhere and get a good night sleep.
- (30 days)