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The situation is said to be tense between the Burmese military and the United Wa State Army (UWSA) following the Wa militia’s rejection on Monday of an order to withdraw its troops from the Mongla region in eastern Shan State.
Under condition of anonymity, a UWSA official told DVB yesterday that the Burmese Triangle Region Military Command had given the Wa an ultimatum to pull back its units from positions in the Mongla area by Monday, 24 October. The UWSA did not withdraw, he said, and the Burmese have sent military aircraft to fly over the Wa bases in Mongla – which is located on the Chinese border – as an apparent show of force.
“The Triangle Regional Military Command demanded UWSA units within the Mongla region withdraw on or before the deadline of 24 October,” the Wa official said. “Our commanders on the ground responded by saying that they were unauthorised to move without express orders from the UWSA leadership. The situation has been tense ever since.”
He added: “Burmese jets have been circling above our bases, carrying out reconnaissance and taking photos. This further intensifies the situation.”
UWSA forces in late September advanced onto Mongla territory under the control of their longstanding ally and neighbour the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), and seized some of its bases. However, the Wa played down the manoeuvre, saying it has had a presence in the Mongla region for over a decade. It vowed to clarify what it called a “misunderstanding” with the government’s Peace Commission.
A letter dated 21 October from the UWSA to Naypyidaw peace negotiator Tin Myo Win said the ethnic militia “will not easily go to war”, and that the current situation in Mongla was “just a misunderstanding over a military exercise” that Wa units are conducting in the area.
Local residents in Mongla said that Burmese battalions on Sunday shut down two bridge checkpoints, Wan Ta Ping and Mongyu, which are both busy trading thoroughfares between Wa and Mongla regions. Locals are reported to be circumventing the bridges with boats on the rivers.
According to some local news reports, a handful of foreign visitors were stranded in Mongla when the checkpoints were closed. A resident in the town of Kengtung said around 20 foreigners were briefly stranded in Mongla but later afforded passage to leave.
In early 2015, UWSA commander Bao Youxiang urged the leaders of 12 ethnic armed groups attending a conference at the Wa headquarters in Panghsang to support and recognise a Wa Autonomous State.
The UWSA – widely regarded as the strongest ethnic armed group in Burma with estimates of up to 25,000 fighters at the ready – used to maintain a strong relationship with the Burmese army during the days of military rule. The Wa army was frequently linked to the drugs trade, and refused to join with other ethnic armies in opposing the Burmese military.
The UWSA did not attend peace talks nor sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement last year. It did send a delegation to the 21st Century Panglong Conference on 31 August, but their representatives stormed out of a meeting in Naypyidaw, claiming they were being discriminated against.