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Burma’s intelligence chief has reportedly told the leader of the Wa ethnic army that its hand in the cross-border opium trade into China is damaging bilateral relations.
The two held high-profile talks last week, with initial reports claiming that the focus was on the government’s plans to transform the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Burma’s largest ceasefire group, into a border guard force (BGF).
But new reports allege that the BGF issue took a back seat while intelligence chief Ye Myint pressed UWSA leader Bao Youxobiang on drug production and the possible removal of UWSA troops in the southern Wa region of Burma’s northeastern Shan state.
Under an agreement with former Burmese intelligence chief Khin Nyunt, who was ousted in 2004, the Wa had been given control of the said territory along the Thai-Burma border.
“[Ye Myint] questioned whether we had any ideas about ‘security issues’ along the China-Burma border, especially regarding drugs,” a Wa commander told DVB. “He said the drugs going into China came from [UWSA] and it was damaging the country’s relations with China.”
The Wa army is thought to play a leading role in Burma’s opium trade, which up until the mid-1990s had been the world’s largest, before being usurped by Afghanistan.
The commander said however that the opium poppies were being grown by non-UWSA people who live on the edge of Wa territory, and who had been granted permission to grow drugs by the government’s regional military commander.
“[Ye Myint] also stressed that we [UWSA and government] should hold frequent meetings and negotiate,” said the commander. “He also mentioned that [the government] now wants the land back which was given to us when General Khin Nyunt was in power.”
According to sources on the China-Burma border, the UWSA continues to refuse proposals to transform into a border guard force, which would bring them under the control of the Burmese junta.
Although it has said it agrees “in principle” to the plan, it will not incorporate government officials into its ranks; one of the conditions the junta has imposed on the transformation.