Wa army may install SPDC official

Dec 8, 2009 (DVB), Burma's largest ceasefire group will not bow to government pressure and transform into a border guard force, but may install a Burmese army official within its senior rank.

Members of the 30,000-strong United Wa State Army (UWSA), based in the Wa region of Burma's northeastern Shan state, met at the end of last month and drew up a nine-point proposal in response to the government.

Burma's ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has been pressuring the country's 18 ceasefire groups to transform into border guard forces and thus return to what it calls the 'legal fold', but only two have so far complied.

In the proposal, the UWSA tabled the idea of forming two military regions in the area controlled by the Wa, in Pangkhang and Wang Hong.

"We propose to have a UWSA official take role of the regional military commander [in Wang Hong], and to have one person each from the UWSA and the Tatmadaw [Burmese army] to take the role of deputy military commander," said the proposal.

The structure would be the same for Pangkhang, except that there would be four deputy regional military commanders, one of whom would be from the Burmese army.

"The Tatmadaw is to take responsibility for regional assistance, health insurance and military training with the UWSA's cooperation," it added.

Wa leaders have warned however that if the government refuses to accept the proposal, and continues pressuring it to transform, then fighting could break out.

"We do not wish for a fight; it only depends on the SPDC," said UWSA commander Jia Goh Eng. "We don't know whether they will attack us or not because they are the one who has a problem."

"But if they refuse to consider any of the points [in the proposal] and start attacking us, we will be left with no choice [but to fight back]."

A Burmese military analyst on the China-Burma border, Aung Kyaw Zaw, told DVB that the UWSA had also announced that it will cooperate with Chinese and Thai governments to curb the region's drug market.

The UWSA are the main producers of heroin in Burma, which ranks behind Afghanistan as the world's second largest heroin source.

He also echoed the Wa commander's warning about the potential for violence to break out in the region. Government pressure on a Shan-based Kokang rebel group in August triggered fighting which forced some 37,000 civilians to flee into China.

"If the government stubbornly goes ahead with their plan without negotiating, we are likely to see a huge bloodbath involving the Wa, the Shan nationals and also the SPDC soldiers," said Aung Kyaw Zaw.

Reporting by Francis Wade and Htet Aung Kyaw

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