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The United Wa State Army (UWSA) has announced that only eight selected media groups will be allowed to cover its scheduled meeting with 11 other ethnic armed groups at its headquarters in Panghsang at the beginning of May.
Aung Myint, a spokesperson for the UWSA, said dozens of media organisations had contacted the Wa militia for accreditation but that it could only accommodate a handful of the requests.
“Our leadership decided to invite just eight news groups to cover the event, although initially about 37 reached out to us for accreditation via phone and email,” he said. “But this is too many and it would be difficult for us to make arrangements for so many reporters.
“We have therefore opted to invite just a few to cover the event, which is in any case just a preliminary meeting. But we intend to extend an invitation to all media in the future to attend our events and meetings.”
The Panghsang conference, slated for 1- 3 May, comes after a series of peace talks between the ethnic armies’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) and the government’s Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC), who together reached agreement on a draft Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement text on 31 March following months of talks. The UWSA were not represented at the negotiations.
This weekend’s meeting has already stirred controversy in Burma’s capital, Naypyidaw, after the Wa leadership went ahead in inviting representatives of the Kokang rebel group, the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), who are currently engaged in fierce hostilities against government forces in northern Shan State.
Burmese military officials have referred to the invitation of the MNDAA as “unacceptable”.
The UWSA was the first ethnic armed group to sign a fresh ceasefire with the new government in 2011. It is the largest of Burma’s ethnic armed groups, with some 20,000- 25,000 troops.
Wa leaders have maintained a relative distance from nationwide ceasefire talks between the NCCT and the UPWC, however they previously have signalled that they will increase their involvement once both parties near the stage of political dialogue.