Civil servants return to Wa region

Government education workers withdrawn from the Wa state capital in March this year have reportedly returned to the volatile region as tension appears to be easing between the Wa army and the Burmese government.

Health and education officials pulled out of Panghsang, in far eastern Shan state, in what was seen as possible preparation for fighting between government troops and the 30,000-strong United Wa State Army (UWSA), Burma’s largest ceasefire group which controls swathes of territory in the country’s northeastern Shan state.

The UWSA had refused to bow to government demands that it transform into a Border Guard Force and come under the control of Naypyidaw.

But in a sign that the notoriously volatile region, which is a source of the majority of Burma’s narcotics market, is calming, around 35 education workers, including nine teachers, have returned, a UWSA official told DVB.

“The health workers still have not returned. Their clinics are deteriorating without any maintenance, and they left without saying anything so there was no one to look after [the clinics],” said the official.

He added however that Panghsang still has four operating hospitals and various clinics in outlying villages, and UWSA members and doctors from China were working in the region.

He said there were a number of development NGOs operating there, including the Wa Region Development Programme initiated four years after the UWSA’s ceasefire agreement in 1989 with ousted military intelligence chief, General Khin Nyunt.

Only a fortnight ago Burma’s current intelligence chief, Ye Myint, travelled to Shan state to question the UWSA about reports that it was boosting troop numbers and digging trenches, although the Wa claimed it was to defend against other armed groups operating along the Thai and Laos borders.

China has also grown concerned about the impact that a fresh outbreak of fighting close to its border with Burma may have on the country’s southwestern Yunnan province, which borders Shan state. Last year fighting between an ethnic Kokang army and the Burmese junta forced some 37,000 refugees into China.

In early May, Beijing deployed around 5,000 extra troops to the Burma border, with concerns that any fighting will impact on the healthy border trade between the two countries. China is one of Burma’s principal economic allies, but has warned the ruling junta to maintain stability along the border.

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