Burma blocks Wa army-linked airline

An airline linked to Burma’s largest ceasefire group and once the world’s biggest producer of opium has had its license revoked by the ruling junta.

Yangon Airways will be forced to temporarily suspend its operations from 3 December, it said today, after aviation officials refused to renew its Aircraft Operating Certificate (AOC).

The company is owned by Aik Hauk, the son-in-law of Bao Youxiang (Pau Yu Chang), who leads the 30,000-strong United Wa State Army (UWSA). Despite agreeing to a ceasefire with the junta in the mid-1990s, its refusal to become a government-backed border militia has strained relations.

An official at the Myanmar’s Civil Aviation Authority told Reuters that the certificate was not issued because the airline did not have the required documents from the Myanmar Investment Commission.

“It’s nothing to do with the airworthiness of the aircraft, they’re absolutely perfect. We think it is something involving its policies,” he said, requesting anonymity.

Yangon Airways also happens to be the only private airline not connected with the government. Others, such as Air Bagan, are owned by cronies of the ruling generals, while one of Burma’s biggest construction conglomerates, Asia World, is co-owned Stephen Law and his father, Lo Hsing-han, a former Shan-based druglord.

Aik Hauk, who also runs a number of hotels and the estate agents, Yangon Holdings, has been accused in the past of overseeing money laundering operations by the UWSA, which was labelled by the US in 2005 as the largest drug-producing organisation in Southeast Asia.

The 600,000 estimated Wa in northeastern Burma’s Shan state are of Chinese origin, and according to Jane’s Intelligence Review in 2008, the UWSA received the majority of its arms from China. It is also believed to run several small-scale arms manufacturing operations.

The decision not to renew the certificate is the latest sign of worsening relations between the junta and the UWSA, which controls swathes of territory close to Burma’s border with China.

Beijing, whose strong relations with Burma are seen as a key factor in the regime’s survival, has however warned against war with the Wa army, which it fears would destabilise security along the shared border.

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