Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Transfer of Wa commander raises questions

(SHAN)- The recent recall by the Wa supreme headquarters in Panghsang on the Sino-Burma border of Ta Roong, Commander of the Thai-Burma border based 248th Division, has raised some eyebrows among Wa watchers in Thailand, particularly as it has taken place at a time when tensions between the Wa and the Burma Army are on the rise.

Ta Roong aka Ai Roong (Photo: UWSA's 20th anniversary publication)

Ta Roong aka Ai Roong had been appointed to command the unit (formerly designated the 214th, then 414th and since last year the 248th), based at Hopang-Hoyawd in Mongton township, opposite Chiangmai in the south and Monghsat in the east, for more than 10 years. He also is one of the “New Faces” identified by SHAN in its 2006 report Hand in Glove: The Burma Army and the Drug Trade in Shan State.

Ta Hsang aka Ai Hsang (Photo: UWSA's 20th anniversary publication)

Ta Roong was replaced by his second in command Bao Ai-sang aka Ta Hsang, according to a SHAN source close to the leadership in Panghsang. “There’s nothing to be fussed about,” he said. “He is an experienced military man and the leaders need him in Panghsang to oversee things.”

But some watchers see the hidden hand of Wei Xuegang, Commander of the 171st Military Region, wanted in both Thailand and the US on drug charges, in his removal. “His replacement is said to be a protégé of Wei,” said a veteran security officer on the border. “Those who challenge his authority sooner or later find they have holes for him to pick.”

Wei Hsaitang, Commander of Mongyawn-based 2518th Independent Regiment (now renamed 518th Division), for instance, who had for years opposed Wei, was removed and imprisoned in Panghsang in 2002 after he was accused of manufacturing counterfeit banknotes and collaboration with the anti-junta Shan State Army (SSA) South, he said.

The source in Panghsang however does not see it that way. “Wei no longer wields absolute power as he used to in the past,” he said. “Since 2007, a committee of which Wei is a member has been set up to coordinate the units on the Thai-Burma border and make decisions on every important subject.”

The United Wa State Army (UWSA) has 5 “divisions” along the Thai-Burma border:

• 778th Division commanded by Ta Marn
• 772nd Division commanded by Ta Hsong
• 775th Division commanded by Yang Guojong
• 248th Division commanded by Ta Hsang
• 518th Division commanded by Li Hsarm-nab

On the Sino-Burma border there are 3: 318th, 418th and 468th.

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