WASHINGTON - Burmese ethnic groups in the United States urged the Biden government to establish a no-fly zone over Myanmar and to impose jet fuel sanctions on the country's military junta.
A group consisting of several different ethnic groups, Buddhist monks, and young activists from different states across the U.S. came to Washington recently to participate in a march on the White House. Activists demanded an end to the Myanmar junta's airstrikes on its own citizens.
'We're saying to the American people, and particularly to President [Joe] Biden, that the people of Burma [Myanmar] need help because every single day, the junta in Burma is killing our people through airstrikes,' said Peter Thawnghmung, president of the Chin Community of Indiana, a non-profit group based in Indianapolis.
Peter Thawnghmung, President of the Chin Community of Indiana, speaking to VOA in front of White House, Feb. 25, 2023.
Thawnghmung said the U.S. can help by urging Myanmar's southeast Asia neighbors to establish a no-fly zone over the country.
'We're here to plead with the government,' said Thawnghmung. 'Please don't ignore us. Help us. We need your help right away. Also, we ask you to influence other organizations like the U.N. to help impose a no-fly zone in the area. The U.S. is the country that can most help us to make this happen.'
Myanmar Witness, a human rights group, recently reported the Myanmar military was increasing the air attacks with deadly results to try to crush stiff-armed resistance two years after it seized power.
According to the report, the number of airstrikes has been increasing since September, with 135 "airway incidents" from July to mid-December.
The rights group said, "As the Myanmar military struggles to exert control over areas of resistance, airstrikes have become a key part of their offensive."
In a February press statement, Forces of Renewal for Southeast Asia - also known as FORSEA - said, 'The Myanmar coup leader Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing's use of violent attacks from the air perfectly fits the definition of "domestic terrorism" developed by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).'
FORSEA is a non-profit organization and was formed by Southeast Asian democrats and rights campaigners. The group also said, 'The Myanmar junta has been deploying its Air Force fighter jets and gunship helicopters to deliberately strike 'soft targets' in the conflict regions of the country" after a February 2021 coup saw the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
A BBC analysis of data collected by ACLED, a non-governmental organization that monitors conflicts, shows at least 600 air attacks by the junta from February 2021 to January 2023.
Dilemma for the US
In a January interview with VOA, Derek Chollet, a senior adviser to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, said no-fly zones are "not something we are considering now. What we're trying to find is a way that we can peacefully resolve the situation inside Burma."
M Tu Aung, a leader of the American-Kachin community in Washington, speaking to VOA in front of White House, Feb. 25, 2023.
M Tu Aung, a leader of the American-Kachin community in the Washington metropolitan area, said protesters can put pressure on the U.S. to work with its allies.
"We have been asking the U.S. government and the international community including the U.N. for no-fly zones over Myanmar since 2021. There is still no pressure from the U.S. government side. Although it is unlikely to happen with China, but if the U.S. put pressure and cooperated with its close allies such as Thailand, Bangladesh and India, it would be much more effective," M Tu Aung told VOA.
Solidarity with Myanmar people
The "multi-ethnic march" on February 25 was aimed at showing "the role of the ethnic groups who have been fighting for decades against the military dictatorship, and achieving a federal democratic system is very important. Also, it is to prove that all ethnic groups [in Myanmar] are united in this fight," he said.
Acvitists march in Washington to push for a no-fly zone over Myanmar.
After gathering in front of the State Department and marching to the White House, the protesters then demonstrated in front of the military attache of the Myanmar junta on February 25. The crowd shouted, "End deadly air strikes in Myanmar," and they sang revolutionary songs.
The protesters came from eight U.S. states, including neighboring Maryland and Virginia. Khin La May, a Burmese activist from Kentucky, told VOA, "We need to fulfill our duty to overthrow the military dictator in Myanmar. No matter how far away it is from my state, we were determined to participate in this important march here in D.C."
Khin La May, a Burmese activist from Louisville, speaks to VOA in front of White House, Feb. 25, 2023.
She noted her appreciation for the inclusion of the Burma Act to the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, saying she asked her U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell for its support.
The Burma Act, part of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, broadens the U.S. government's authority to impose sanctions against the post-coup regime and to aid Myanmar opposition and resistance groups, including ethnic armed groups. The authorized aid does not include arms.
Fifty-four organizations representing multiple ethnicities in Myanmar from around the U.S. recently wrote an open letter to the Biden administration asking it to impose sanctions on the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, a state-owned company that serves as one of the junta's main sources of income.