In Myanmar’s northern state of Kachin, a land rich in jade and timber, people speak their own language and practice Christianity. We are far from the capital, Naypyidaw, but its grip is omnipresent. The central government has been in conflict with the Kachin for half a century.

Only recently released from the rule of the military junta, Myanmar is struggling to hold its varying ethnic and religious groups together. Seventeen armed groups are engaged in talks with the government to draft an agreement for the first nationwide truce in more than 60 years—but the Kachin have refused to sign a deal. As the fragile peace talks drag on, violence has become widespread in the area.

Fighting flared up in June 2011 after the Myanmar army broke a 17-year-old ceasefire, launching a major offensive against the military wing of the Kachin Independence Organization, formed in 1961. Today, the conflict has killed and injured more than 1,000 combatants and displaced more than 120,000 people, say the Kachin.

I was smuggled through China into the rebel-controlled areas of Kachin State along the border by the rebel army and a corrupt Chinese policeman who had me hide at a checkpoint. With attacks happening daily, the Kachin have been pushed closer and closer to China, a country that has maintained close ties with the ethnic minority and for a while enjoyed a near-monopoly on its natural resources and foreign policy. As violence persists, the Kachin have had no choice but to depend on their neighbor for survival.

A Kachin Independence Army (KIA) soldier patrols the frontline on lookout for Myanmar soldiers.
A soldier sleeps in his bunk after a day of training. For more than 50 years, the KIA has recruited and trained male and female soldiers year-round.
Worshippers at morning mass at St.Francis Savor Church in the Myitkyina. The Kachin are devout Christians in a predominantly Buddhist Myanmar.
U Thet Oo Son, 33, a jade worker from Talargy village, displaced by the Myanmar-Kachin war, has lived with his family in an IDP camp for the past year.
Kachin rebel fighters on the frontlines of Jang Mai, a military outpost controlled by the KIA. Since the collapse of the ceasefire in 2011, KIA positions around the Chinese border town of Mai Ja Yang have been attacked by shelling and heavy artillery.
A wedding in a Kachin village.
The conflict has displaced more than 125,000 ethnic Kachin. The majority are living in Internally Displaced Camps like this one, in Waimaw.
A New Year celebration in Kachin state. Before the start of the war in 2011, a large festival was held in Myitkyina every year, but it has since been put on hold.