World War II: Burma--The Karen People

World war II CBI Theater

The Karen people are Sino-Tibetan language speaking ethnic groups which live in southern and southeastern Burma and ajacent border regions of Thailand. They represent over 5 percent of the Burmese population. The British during the colonial era were supportive of the Karen. Minority western-educated Christian Karens founded the Karen National Associations (KNA) to promote Karen interests in the British colonial administration (1881). KNA representatives at the Montagu-Chelmsford hearings in India testified that that Burma was not "yet in a fit state for self-government" (1917). They were concerned about Burmese majority rule. They criticized the Craddock Reforms (1920). The Karens won 5 and later won 5 and later 12 seats in the Nurmese Legislative Council. The British colonial added Karen New Year to the public holidays (1938). The majority Buddhist Karens were much slower to organize. The Buddhist KNA was founded (1939). The British managed to prevent any major outbreak of violence between the Karens and majority Burmese. This changed with the Japanese occupation (1942). The Japanese abnd their Burma Independence Army (BIA) behaved brutally toward the Karen who were seen as pro-British. Viloent incidnts occurred, however the Karen were no armed to any extent. Mostly the BIA armed by the Japanese destroted villages and massacres wwe carried out. A pre-war Cabinet minister, Saw Pe Tha, and his family were among the victims. Colonel Suzuki Keiji assigned to gain control over the BIA, intervened to prevehnt further escalation of the violence. He met with a Karen delegation led by Saw Tha Din. As a result of pre-War attitudes, the Japanese/BIA attrocities, seizure of crops, and press-ganging Karen labor, the Allies found support among the Karen as they launched offensives against the Japanese in Burma.


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Created: 6:23 AM 9/12/2012
Last updated: 6:23 AM 9/12/2012