Karen population in Albert Lea wonders about murder case

Published 9:19 am Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The alleged homicide of Albert Lea resident Po Lye in St. Paul has cast a somber mood over the local Karen population.

Lye was one of many Karen living in Albert Lea. He worked at meat processor Albert Lea Select Foods.

Select Foods General Manager Nate Jansen said the company employs many Karen people.

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“Our thoughts are with him and the loss of a valued employee,” he said.

The Karen people originate mainly from Burma but also a small part of Thailand. They comprise 7 percent of the Burmese population and have been a minority persecuted by the Burmese military.

Tens of thousands have fled to refugee camps in Thailand. According to various news stories on the Karen population, their numbers in Minnesota continue to grow as word gets back to their home country about this state being a good place to reside. About 4,000 Karen refugees live in Minnesota.

Anywhere from a third to a half of the Karen are Christian. The rest are mainly Buddhists. In their calendar, the year is 2750.

Albert Lea High School seniors Ka see Yar and Tabe Htoo said local Karen knew the name of Lye before St. Paul police released it. They said people have been trying to piece together connections to him — such as a friend of a relative who worked with him when he used to reside in St. Paul — and said he didn’t have any local family members.

They said their parents both want to know more about the case.

Yar and Htoo said the reports of the stabbings are scary yet solemn. Both used to live in St. Paul. Yar said she likes living in Albert Lea, while Htoo said she misses her friends in St. Paul. Both said Albert Lea tends to present fewer problems than St. Paul did.

The two seniors were featured last April in Ahlahasa, the ALHS student newspaper. They left Burma at a young age and grew up in a refugee camp in Thailand.

“The camp was like a small community,” the story reported. “They went to school every day, did chores after school, and went to church on Sundays.”

They came to Albert Lea about three years ago, arriving in St. Paul.

The Karen influx to Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Medical Association, began in about 2004, when doctors started noticing Southeast Asian names quite different from Minnesota’s Hmong population.

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

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