Increased digging of trenches and weapon stockpiling by the United Wa State Army (UWSA) is reportedly concerning the ruling junta in Burma, who last week met with officials from the Wa’s southern brigade.
Burmese intelligence chief Ye Myint during talks close to the border town of Tachilek questioned the reasons behind the UWSA’s troop recruitment boost: the 30,000-strong ceasefire army is already Burma’s largest, and controls swathes of territory in the country’s northeastern Shan state.
Tensions between the ethnic army and the ruling junta have been high in recent months as the Wa wavers over whether to transform into a ceasefire group.
“Apparently general Ye Myint said the government had no wish to fight with the Wa and break the peace between the two,” a Wa official said under condition of anonymity.
Ye Myint reportedly questioned whether the operations, which include accepting back former Wa fighters, were preparation for fighting with the Burmese government.
But, according to the official, the UWSA commander who met with Ye Myint told him that the actions were standard procedures given the Wa’s proximity to the Laos and Thailand borders and armed groups that operate there.
Aung Kyaw Zaw, a military analyst based on the China-Burma border, said that Aung Than Htut Thein, the chief of Military Affairs Security (MAS), the junta’s de facto intelligence agency, travelled to the Wa state capital Panghsang on 9 May, but was snubbed by the UWSA.
Following the visit, however, Wa leader Bao Youxiang sent a letter to Ye Myint stating the UWSA’s position, including its “fundamental support” for the upcoming elections.
But the tensions surrounding the Border Guard Force issue have hindered the UWSA from working on development projects along the border, the Wa official told DVB. The first spark of violence in Shan state occurred in August last year when the Burmese army attacked an ethnic Kokang army, which had refused to transform into a border militia.
“The Wa were able to go to remote villages to help them with school building, agricultural work and health but now no longer since the Kokang incident last year,” he said.
He added that following this, and increased militarisation of the region, government officials are “trespassing on Wa territory”, although he acknowledged that NGO and World Food Programme workers were active in the region.