I AM waiting for a warlord.
As warlords go he is not a bad man.
He would do me no harm and is simply trying to get his people’s message across.
He wants freedom for his people, the Karen people of Burma.
Colonel Nerdah is the son of General Bo Mya, a legend of international soldiering.
The father has taught his son well.
For days I have been waiting.
Waiting is a tiresome enough task in itself.
I have breakfast.
I have lunch.
I have dinner.
The man I am waiting for has at least four mobile phones, eight different sim cards and somehow his wife always knows how to get in touch with him.
This is a war about families and how to protect them.
So we meet, we make arrangements.
Then he comes.
We are going to a funeral.
I am slotted in the back of a one-tonne pick-up truck with 12 soldiers of the Karen National Liberation Army.
It is impossibly hot.
Then it begins to rain.
So we are doing 120km/h and we are all drenched and laughing at our predicament.
There is no room to move, everyone is uncomfortable and the road is steaming from the deluge.
The mountains around us are steaming.
And everyone is laughing.
We have just left the funeral of the Karen National Union chairman Pado Ba Thin Sein.
There were two foreigners there, the photographer I am working with and myself.
The pickup is lurching all over the road - there is no right side of the road.
The man behind the wheel is Ner Dah, the son of the late General Bo Mya, a former Karen National Union chairman himself.
About six hundred kilometres by road, two river crossings and reduction to a sweating mess twice over, Ner Dah delivers me back to where I began the day as night closes in on us.
The Thai military have not arrested me, Ner Dah was concerned about that, so we have had a win.
I was pushed into the front of the pickup’s tray and surrounded by good soldiers.
At some checkpoints the Thais didn’t even see me, all they could see was legs.
At the edge of the funeral Saw Aung Win Shwe laments what life has dealt him as a refugee.
“My mother died six years ago, but of course I could not go to the funeral,” he tells me.
He is an expatriate Burmese who would be arrested, tortured and then killed if he were to return to his homeland.
He fled as a student in 1988.
We talk a little about his mum and he accepts it as a fact of his life that he could not witness her funeral rites.
I am at a loss.
How do I explain that people in the West will never grasp the concept that his own government would have refused him the right to attend his mother’s funeral?
It beggars belief, but it is a fact in today’s Burma that the military is waging war against its own people.
When the international community lines up to provide aid in the event of a tremendous natural disaster the junta rejects them.
The 12 men I share the pickup with are all living on the verge of their country and are part of the last organised group that has not signed a peace deal with the current embodiment of Burma’s ruling military junta, the State Peace and Development Council.
Fighting has become a way of life for them, they laugh as they do it.
Everyone at the funeral asks me what I think the “international community” will do now, as the junta’s hatred for its people has obviously been laid bare.
How would I know?
The international community does not have a phone number - I can’t call to check.
But as the only foreign reporter among perhaps 10,000 Burmese they want to know what I think.
All I can do is explain that what you are dealing with is a hotch-potch of vested interests all vying against one another to make the most money.
At least someone has found a plastic sheet to keep the rain off us as we hurtle down the road.
So I go back to waiting.
Colonel Ner Dah has confirmed who I am with a visual sighting.
He recognises me from many years ago when we first met.
So I wait with his sister, for days.
She is taking care of me as I wait and laughing that she has become my secretary.
Then one morning Ner Dah’s brother Teleh comes and it is time to go.
We travel to the liberated areas of Karen State.
Then we walk.
And walk and walk and talk.
Ner Dah explains to me the operational structure created by necessity through decades of war.
Every village has a committee.
In that committee certain people take certain responsibilities.
Some are health, some schooling, some security, then there is the headman.
The headman’s job is an impossible task - he has to satisfy everyone and keep the peace.
So the headman talks and talks – and listens.
We are sitting in a two-storey wooden house of which the headman has control.
It is high noon and blisteringly hot.
The women scatter as the men take a seat.
We have been walking and the women have had the house to themselves for the morning.
The two foreigners, a Swiss mercenary and myself, are asked to take a walk while the women make preparations for lunch.
His soldiers of the Karen National Liberation Army have wrested control of substantial tracts of land within Burma’s Karen state and are building new villages so displaced people can return home.
Many of the areas were once densely populated by Karen farmers, but their homes and farms were razed in seek-and-destroy missions by troops of the ruling military regime, the State Peace and Development Council.
The KNLA soldiers have planted vast tracts of corn, to this point they expect a coming crop of 10,000 tonnes of cobs that will be sold across the border in Thailand to buy rice and build homes for anyone displaced by decades of fighting to return home.
At a tiny village, equipped with a medical clinic and a school, solar panels supply power for lighting and the KNLA soldiers have constructed secure water infrastructure.
On a tour of the areas under development, Colonel Ner Dah, a KNLA commander, said it was time to rethink the refugee camps strung out along the Thai border and how displaced people could realistically be helped to come home.
“We must build the economy and provide security,” he said of trying to orchestrate a future for people who have suffered trauma so great they have been content to languish in refugee camps on Thai territory and hope for relocation to a third country.
“We must first recognise ourselves as Karen without waiting for anyone else to recognise us,” he said.
“The SPDC is stubborn, is backed by China and it is not going to give in.
“We must first help the people with health care and schooling.
“Then, when we have an economy again and the Burmese junta is unable to cross our demarcation lines, people will begin to recognise us,” he said.
Colonel Ner Dah then explained the theory behind the new tactics.
The KNLA had finally won back portions of the state after crippling SPDC offensives beginning in earnest in 1984 that forced more than 150,000 people into Thai refugee camps.
Now they had to repopulate, he said.
“Karen State must be controlled by occupation,” he said.
“Now we say to people, ‘come home, you have your country and we can provide security’,” he said.
As we walked through one of the newly-established villages, one of three visited on our tour, he described the people living and working the substantial farms there as the true heroes of the Karen nation.
“These are really brave people who want to stay in their homeland,” he said.
“You know everyday I sit and think: How to end this war?
“I think perhaps one day when the fighting is over I might like to sit in the shade and have a cold beer on a hot day. I think that first sip would probably taste so good.”
Colonel Ner Dah is 42 years old and has not yet allowed himself that luxury because the liberation of his people is not complete.
He laughs when asked about Cyclone Nargis.
“You know the enemy only have 70 per cent of their air force left and who knows what is left of the navy.
“The SPDC soldiers are demoralised, they don’t want to leave base camp anymore and they have been banned from listening to the BBC so they don’t get news of what is happening.”
“They are paid poorly and their families are not taken care of back home.”
It is a critical time for this country’s future.
How do I explain that people in the West will never grasp the concept that his own government would have refused him the right to attend his mother’s funeral? It beggars belief, but it is a fact in today’s Burma that the military is waging war against its own people.