Burma’s largest ceasefire group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), is investigating a shootout between its troops and government soldiers which resulted in the death of one Wa member.
The battle broke out on in Wa territory close to Shan state’s Namting, a UWSA official told DVB, but details of the incident remain vague. There were three Burmese army battalions positioned near the area.
“The government army should have been more careful at a time like this,” the official said. “We had already made it clear to them that no group is allowed to enter one another’s territory carrying arms.”
Relations between the 30,000-strong UWSA, once billed by the US as the world’s leading heroin producer, and the Burmese army have come under strain in the past year as the ruling junta looks to transform ceasefire groups into Border Guard Forces and bring them under the control of the army.
The government is desperately trying to shore up its support base prior to elections this year as it draws up a grand design for a future Union of Burma, with ethnic armies either assimilated into the Burmese army, or otherwise eliminated.
The UWSA has however wavered over the transformation and the ceasefire agreement signed in 1989 has looked increasingly tenuous. The Wa official said that the shooting took place after a group of some 30 Burmese troops entering Namting were stopped by UWSA soldiers.
“Apparently the soldiers told our troops that they can visit [Wa territory] if they want as well as the Wa visiting in their territories. One of our soldiers told them that they could not enter Namtim just like that. There were only two or three of our comrades at the place but they had many.”
After attempting to block their entry, one Wa soldier shot at the patrol “by accident”, the Wa official said, and the Burmese troops responded with a grenade launcher and automatic rifle fire.
A visiting Burmese army official told the Wa army last month that its eventual transformation into a Border Guard Force was inevitable, given that a future Burma should not have competing armed groups. The UWSA has said however that while it will not accede to the demands, it continues to urge peace with the government.