A standoff between Burmese government forces and members of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) has emerged in eastern Shan State this week after loggers working in the area were detained by the Burmese army.
Sixteen workers, logging on behalf of the UWSA, were arrested in Wa rebel-held territory near around Mongsat District’s Mongton Township in a move that led to around 100 UWSA troops surrounding a Burmese army position. The confrontation was ongoing as of Friday.
Speaking on Friday, UWSA spokesperson Aung Min told DVB: “Government forces detained 16 of our loggers in forest that is under our control. We have our own forestry regulations and do not allow irresponsible woodcutting – and the workers only chopped down around 80 tons of wood to renovate buildings that house our troops and local villagers,” he said.
“Instead of negotiating, the Burmese army peacefully detained the men. They later released 10 of them who are ethnically Burman, but not the rest – four Chinese, one Palaung [Ta-ang] and one Wa – and they have indicated they plan to put them on trial,” said Aung Min.
Angered by the move, a Wa commander overseeing the group’s operations in the area sent two battalions to surround the government troops’ position.
The Union Peace-Making Work Committee has been informed of the incident, said Aung Min.
The UWSA, believed to be the strongest ethnic armed group in Burma, with a troop strength estimated up to 30,000, last month hosted a high-profile summit of ethnic armed organisation leaders at its headquarters in Panghsang where it demanded recognition of an autonomous Wa State, a location currently recognised as a self-administered special region of Shan State.