WASHINGTON — Young Kbrang Aung drove about 20 hours with his Kachin friends to join demonstrations this weekend outside the White House and the State Department’s headquarters, more than 1,100 miles from his new home in Omaha, Nebraska.
But during a peaceful protest with scores of other Kachin Americans on Saturday, he was handcuffed and detained temporarily by police officers and US Secret Service officials who noticed a traditional sword hanging from his bag.
He and a friend, who was also detained for wearing similar attire, were released 10 minutes later when officials from the Kachin Alliance, which had organized the protest at the White House, explained that the sword was part of the ethnic group’s traditional dress and did not pose a security threat.
US President Barack Obama was inside the White House during the rally, as scores of protesters called on him to intervene to protect the alleged human rights abuses and killing of their people by the Burmese government in Kachin State.
“It’s time for President Obama to review his relationship with the Burmese government, which has been killing our people,” said Young Kbrang Aung, who came to the United States about nine months ago from a refugee camp in Malaysia.
The Burmese government army, which has been fighting a war against ethnic minority rebels in Kachin State, last month began launching air strikes near rebel headquarters, where tens of thousands of civilians are living in refugee camps.
Days ahead of the demonstration in Washington, the Kachin Alliance sent a letter to the US president seeking his intervention.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States was concerned about the war in Kachin State and urged all stakeholders, including the Burmese government, to engage in peace talks.
Myra Dahgaypaw, campaign coordinator for US Campaign for Burma, said Kachin refugees were in dire need of humanitarian aid, as the Burmese government has blocked international aid groups from accessing refugees in rebel-controlled territory.
“The US should urgently come forward to stop this genocide of the Kachin people,” said Gum San, a spokesman for the Kachin Alliance.
About 3,000 Kachin people live in the United States, according to unofficial estimates.
“We expect the Obama administration to value human rights,” Gum San said. “We expect them to be a voice for the prosecuted. We feel the US has the position and the moral authority to denounce these atrocities in northern Burma.
“The United States should not be blind to what is happening in Burma. We urge the US to re-enact sanctions.”
Sutnau Nau Ndayu, one of the founders of the Kachin Alliance, flew from Texas to Washington for the protests.
“The US has been silent about what’s happening in Kachin State,” he said. “We want the Obama administration to help us stop this killing and put pressure on the Burmese government.”