Burma’s most powerful armed ethnic group has said it will push for talks with the new Burmese government after months of tension and stand off over its refusal to become a Border Guard Force.
A spokesperson for the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Aung Myint, told DVB yesterday that they welcomed the conciliatory words of Burmese President Thein Sein, who said shortly after coming to office that he would focus efforts on pacifying the restive ethnic border regions through development projects.
“Our leaders welcome the President’s speech and reformation of central border committees [Central Committee for Border Areas and National Races] and discussions regarding situations at the border areas – we read in newspapers. Our leaders agreed with what he said and are wishing to solve the ethnic issues via negotiations,” said Aung Myint.
“A negotiation will bring a permanent solution for the country and the ethnic people.”
Sein’s words were indeed not as combative as previous statements, but he appeared to blame insurgencies on the “localism and racism” of ethnic people as opposed to the Burman majority, who are usually seen as pervasively dominant and oppressive, a reason many ethnic groups fight the central government. Thein Sein will be the chair person of the new Central Committee for Border Areas and National Races.
Hoever Aung Myint confirmed rumours that the Burmese army had previously warned the UWSA to withdraw its troops stationed outside of the Wa territory.
“That news was correct – we were told to withdraw our troops that were outside of our territory. Our leaders are now investigating cases with the respective military units.”
The UWSA were earlier rumoured to be offering help to the Shan State Army North (SSA(N)), who have recently been assaulted by fresh waves of SPDC troops attempting to take a strategic bridge near Namlao in Shan State. Where similarly the Burmese were alleged to have cleared villages as a means of removing the local support base.
The UWSA, said to be the strongest ethnic armed force in Burma with 30,000 estimated troops, released a statement on March 26 expressing a wish to solve its disagreements with the Burmese regarding the transition via peaceful means such as political dialogue and discussion.
The group’s relations with the Burma army was strained when it turned down the Border Guard Force transformation proposed by the government, which was designed to assimilate armed ethnic groups into the Burmese army. This lead to threats of attack against them and others who had refused to sign. Whilst such threats have so far failed to materialise against the UWSA in any meaningful fashion, actions taken against the nearby SSA(N) may be a forewarning that, as in the past, the Burmese will take on each group separately whilst pacifying remaining groups through treaties, a tactic perfected by former Prime Minister and Intelligence Chief, Khin Nyunt.
The Wa live near the China border and have strong links to that country. The UWSA was constructed out of the remains of the Burma Communist Party (BCP) which was supported and supplied by the Chinese. As a result many of the top leadership still have strong business links to China, which often appears a more stable and prosperous neighbour than Burma.
Such a fear resulted in Sein noting that the Burmese “Union could break into pieces”, options the Wa traditionally relish as much as Sein fears them.