Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tensions Between Wa, Junta Continue to Rise

The Irrawaddy News

Tensions between the Burmese military and the United Wa State Army (UWSA) have been mounting since a 30-member Burmese delegation led by Lt-Gen Ye Myint, the chief of Military Affairs Security, was forced to disarm during a visit to Wa-held territory in Shan State on January 19, according to sources in the area.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese analyst based on the Sino-Burmese border, said that the visiting Burmese military officials and accompanying soldiers were told to disarm as they entered Wa-controlled territory to attend a meeting with the UWSA at their headquarters of Panghsang.

According to Mai Aik Phone, who observes Wa affairs, the purpose of the visit was to allow Burmese military leaders to learn how to launch an effective election campaign in the area in 2010. However, sources said that discussions were limited to plans to develop the local economy.

Since last year’s referendum on a military-drafted constitution, the Burmese regime has been sending delegations to different parts of the country to drum up support for an election slated to be held in 2010. The regime claimed to have won overwhelming approval for its new charter, despite charges that the referendum was rigged.

As part of its plans for the future, the junta has stepped up its efforts to persuade ceasefire groups to disarm. However, the Wa have been particularly resistant to this idea, putting renewed pressure on a ceasefire agreement that was reached 20 years ago.

On December 5, Brig-Gen Kyaw Phyoe, the Burmese Army’s regional commander in the Golden Triangle area of Shan State, met with the commander of the UWSA’s 468th Brigade, Col Sai Hsarm, in Mongpawk, south of Panghsang, to pressure him to withdraw troops from the area and “exchange arms for peace.” The Wa leader rejected the demand.

Earlier this month, the UWSA proposed a plan to designate territory under its control as a special autonomous region. Although the Burmese military hasn’t responded to the proposal, the UWSA has already begun to refer to its territory as the “Wa State Government Special Region” in official documents.

The Wa area has been known by the Burmese military as “Shan State Special Region 2” since the UWSA entered into a ceasefire agreement with the regime in 1989.

In 2003, when the United Wa State Party, the political wing of the UWSA, attended a junta-sponsored national constitutional convention, it asked to be allowed to form a Wa State.

Wa political observers estimate that there are 20,000 UWSA soldiers currently deployed along Burma’s borders with Thailand and China, while an estimated 60,000 to 120,000 Wa villagers inhabit areas of lower Shan State.

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