Burmese troops move into Wa region

Sept 2, 2009 (DVB), An increase in Burmese troops in a region controlled by Burma's largest ceasefire group has been witnessed amid reports that a wanted ethnic leader has fled to the region.

Tension remains high in Burma's northeastern Shan state following fighting between Burmese troops and an ethnic ceasefire group, the Myanmar Peace and Democracy Front (MPDF).

The MPDF, an alliance of four ceasefire groups from the Kokang special region of Shan state, was reportedly joined by around 500 troops from the 30,000-strong United Wa State Army (UWSA), Burma's largest ceasefire group.

A Wa official told DVB today that numbers of Burmese army troops were increasing in the Wa region of Shan state.

A UWSA commander, Jia Goh Eng, added that "there might be some activity by the government army in the Wa region , but it's a complicated matter to talk about."

Some of the 37,000 refugees who fled north across the border into China to escape fighting have started returning home, many fearing the looting of their houses and shops.

The fighting broke a 20-year ceasefire agreement between both the Kokang group and the UWSA, who are thought to receive arms and economic support from China.

Hong Kong-based Wen Wei Po newspaper said today that the leader of the MPDF, Peng Jiasheng, had fled Kokang and was currently seeking refuge in the Wa region. The leader of the UWSA, Bai Youxiang, is said to be close to Peng Jiasheng.

The conflict, sparked by pressure from the Burmese government on ceasefire groups to transform into border patrol militias, threatens to spark wider fighting between the Burmese army and ethnic groups.

All three major ceasefire groups based in northeastern Burma have rejected the border guard request. The government had also urged the groups to form political parties in lieu of the 2010 elections.

A spokesperson for the Shan State Army (South), Sai Lao Hseng, said yesterday that the latest offensive on the Kokang group could "make it even more difficult for the ceasefire groups to trust the government".

Reporting by Francis Wade

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