Wa army-linked airline to fly again

Leading domestic airline Yangon Airways will resume flights next month after a hiatus of nearly a year, after it was refused a new license in November with speculation over its links to a major armed ethnic group.

The airline ceased operations in December last year, but confirmed to DVB that it would begin again on 16 October.

Suspicions abounded last year that the denial of a license was linked to the fact that its owner, Aik Hauk, is the son of prominent United Wa State Army (UWSA) leader Bao Youxiang.

In November an official told Reuters that, “[the refusal has] nothing to do with the airworthiness of the aircraft, they’re absolutely perfect. We think it is something involving its policies.”

The government however held talks with the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Burma’s largest ethnic armed group, on 6 and 7 of September. Whilst the group has failed to fully sign up to the government’s Border Guard Force (BGF) plan, an effort to assimilate ethnic armies into the Burmese army, relations between the two sides have thawed in recent months.

This is despite ongoing Burmese army operations against the other two major northern armed ethnic groups, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Shan State Army (SSA).

The government has however embarked on PR offensive, with Information Minister Kyaw Hsan claiming that “the government will take steps for eternal peace by acceding to the wishes of armed groups to the most possible extent”.

But the Burmese army has shown no signs of relenting in its offensives, which has allegedly involved using Buddhist monks as human shields and displacing thousands of locals.

This means that peace with the UWSA have been essential for the government as it struggles to make headway against other ethnic rebels. The UWSA are the most politically palatable of the major armies, having renounced politics after a 1989 coup, focussing instead on business, in particular narcotics. Members of the Burmese military are routinely alleged to have profited from the trade.

Yangon Airways is the only non state-affiliated airline in a market where ownership and control is alleged to be highly contested and politicised.

The airline was founded in 1996 and flies domestic routes. Its central office confirmed that it will resume operations but would not disclose why operations were suspended.

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