Karenni Soldiers Choose To Stay Behind As Families ResettleMae Hong Son- The Karenni military base perched at the top of Nyar Mon Mountain is the last base for the Karrenni Army along the border between Thailand and Karenni.
But, it is a long way from Karenni Refugee Camp #1, where the loved ones and families of the soldiers who man the camp live.
One of the first soldiers you would see when visiting the base is tactical officer, Lt. Commander So Reh, who can be seen in his camouflaged uniform looking out over the peaceful terrain, with his walkie-talkie in hand.
The 45 year old has served in the karrenni Army for more than 20 years. But, his determination to live his life as a soldier has meant he has had to give up his family on two occasions.
After his first wife and four daughters left Thailand to be resettled in Sweden, he remarried and started a new family.
But, his second wife also chose to apply for resettlement and took their daughter and moved to America to start a new life.
“Being a soldier is the only life I know,” he said decisively in a recent interview.
“It is the only job I know how to do.”
He chose soldiering over resettlement with his loved ones because it has always been his life’s dream. But, he said it has been difficult to get divorced and be separated from his family after being together for so many years.
“I didn’t go to school as a child. I made up my mind early to be a soldier,” he said.
“I have been wounded many times, but, I am determined to continue leading this life.”
He said he and his comrades have sworn to serve the Karrenni people, who have been so oppressed by Burma’s military government.
He said to break that commitment by entering the resettlement program would be like, “lying to my people.”
“Instead of resettlement, I have decided to sacrifice my life to my country. I’m over 45 now, so I’ll just have to carry on.
I can’t speak any English, so, I would have to struggle along doing farm work, or something. After serving more than 20 years as a soldier, it would break my heart to give up my country.”
Other soldiers have also had to make the difficult choice to agree to a divorce at the Karenni Camp Justice Court, so their families can qualify for resettlement.
One fellow soldier, who asked not to be identified, said he chose to grant his wife a divorce because life for his people inside Karenni state is much worse than life in the refugee camp.
“I’ll continue to serve the people as a soldier until peace comes for those inside Karenni,” he said.
Many soldier’s wives want to apply for resettlement so their children can get an education in their new country.
Lt. Soe Rae sees the value of this, but, for all the Karrenni people, not just the children.
“It is not just a matter of them starting a new life somewhere else. Someday, the children will be able to help the Karrenni people who still remain inside Burma.”
But, an official at the Camp Justice Court said that although some soldiers have signed the divorce documents, and stayed behind in the camp while their family moved to a new country, they later changed their minds and applied for resettlement to be reunited with their loved ones.
“We should be together,” said one soldier, who later applied for resettlement.
“I cannot separate from my children.”
The resettlement program started accepting Karrenni refugees in 2005. Host countries include Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, America and Canada.
Camp officials said 4,281 have resettled in those countries in the first 6 months of 2009.
Although, Lt. Soe Reh has kept his commitment to fight for his people against the government of Burma at great personal cost, the battle ahead may yet be a long one.
He misses his 2 families who have been resettled, as he looks out over the blue mountainous terrain spread out below the base, walkie- talkie in hand.
Taking a deep breath of the mountain air, he said, “Someday my daughters will have wings and they will fly to where their father is.”
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