Burmese government workers have been withdrawn from territory in Shan state controlled by the United Wa State Army (UWSA) in a possible sign of looming hostilities.
The 30,000-strong Wa army, Burma’s largest armed ethnic group, recently refused to allow troops from the Burmese army to accompany Election Commission officials into their territory, drawing the ire of the ruling junta.
A UWSA official in the Wa capital, Panghsang, said that workers from around 10 different governmental departments under the Ministry of Progress of Border Areas and National Races and Development Affairs were pulled out on 1 September. They had been working on health, education and agriculture projects.
Tension has mounted between the ruling junta and the UWSA, who signed a ceasefire agreement in 1989, both over its blocking of army-accompanied election officials and the group’s refusal to transform into a Border Guard Force, a move that would see lower-ranking troops assimilated into the Burmese army.
“Our Central Executive Committee had already made the decision – [the government workers] can leave and we will not stop them,” a UWSA official told DVB. “But we cannot accept that the Burmese army will accompany the Election Commission. We have our own troops here and we are playing by our rules in our own autonomous region. [The Burmese Army] cannot enter here as they wish.”
An agreement was reached to hold polling in Wa-controlled territory for the 7 November elections, Burma’s first in 20 years. But, the Wa official said, the junta went ahead with preparation for the polling in two Wa regions without UWSA permission, causing it to refuse preparation in the remaining four regions.
Numbers of other international agencies, many of whom work under the UN, operate in Wa area in Burma’s volatile eastern Shan state. Many of these however remain.
Accompanying the government workers who left the Wa region were around 50 Burmese army troops who had been posted there for on security detail for the government workers.