About a dozen protesters brought a message from half-way across the globe to downtown Omaha on Tuesday: The Burmese government must stop its oppression against the Kachin people of Burma.
Through signs and fliers, the demonstrators who live in Omaha under refugee status urged an end to military assaults on the northern part of the southeast Asian country where the ethnic Kachins live.
They say there are about 150 Kachin refugees in Omaha. By some resettlement experts' estimates, Omaha has anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 Burmese refugees of different ethnic backgrounds.
“It's a very massive attack,'' Mary Labang, 38, said about the Burmese government's crackdown against the north that began in June 2011.
Recent attacks escalated around Dec. 15, the refugees say, and have included aerial assaults.
“We only want equality and justice” in the Kachin area, Labang said.
She and her fellow protesters demonstrated on the southeast corner of 14th and Douglas Streets.
The Omaha Kachins said they live mostly in north Omaha and worship at a church in Benson. They said they faced numerous human rights violations at the hand of the Burmese government, so they fled to neighboring countries such as Thailand and then made their way to Omaha.
A bigger protest is planned for Saturday in Washington, D.C., at the Burmese Embassy and on Capitol Hill, where refugees will urge the Obama administration to pressure Burma to ease up on the Kachins.
Recently, the U.S. government and other nations let up on sanctions against Burma after the militaristic government began showing signs of reform.
In 2011, Burma released Nobel Peace Prize winner and reformist Aung San Suu Kyi from years of house arrest, and she met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last year in Burma.