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A key official charged with brokering negotiations between the Burmese junta and the Wa army has now been withdrawn from the volatile region as additional government workers leave Mongla territory.
The pullout from the two ‘special zones’ in Burma’s eastern Shan state began this week. Although no official reason has been given, tension is high between the junta and the 30,000-strong United Wa State Army (UWSA) over the ceasefire group’s refusal to allow Burmese troops to accompany election officials in to survey the area prior to 7 November polls.
Added to the Wa withdrawal, which has included the junta’s liaison official with the UWSA, more than 100 government workers from the Mongla army-controlled region of Shan state are now in Kengtung, one of the state’s principal towns that lies within Burmese army territory. As well as the UWSA, the Mongla army has been ordered by the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) to transform into a Border Guard Force (BGF), or else face reprisals.
Like the majority of Burma’s ceasefire groups, both have however refused the move, which would see their lower-ranking troops assimilated into the Burmese army.
This has added to tension in the country’s border regions, many of which are controlled by armed ethnic groups. Of particular concern is stability along Burma’s shared border with China: junta chief Than Shwe is currently in Beijing where Chinese Premier Hu Jintao is expected to urge the military general to ensure no flare-ups occur prior to elections. An outbreak of fighting in August last year between Burmese troops and a Shan-based ethnic Kokang army forced some 37,000 refugees across the border, and drew a sharp rebuke from Beijing.
A military analyst based on the China-Burma border, Aung Kyaw Zaw, said that the issue would “definitely be included” in the bilateral discussions, adding that “it is likely there will be small-scale, limited battles before 7 November to seize some territory [from the Wa and Mongla]”.
One of the government workers now Kengtung told DVB that “all government staff in [Mongla and Wa] started being pulled out about two days ago; everyone was [ordered] to leave.” He added that workers may be kept in Kengtung for a month, despite no reason being given for the pullout.
In the Wa region a number of government workers in the health and education sector have refused to leave, a UWSA official said.
“They have been stationed here for about five or six years already and didn’t want to leave. Some of them are staying behind,” he said, adding that permission had been given by Wa leaders for them to remain.
However he denied rumours that Burmese troops had been deployed near the Wa border.