Wa army switch ‘inevitable’

The Wa army in northeastern Burma will one day have to join with the ruling military government because a country with more than one army is unacceptable, the junta has warned the group.

A government delegation led by the head of Burma’s Northern Military Command, Win Thein, met with the 30,000-strong United Wa State Army (UWSA) on Tuesday after a bi-annual visit to China to discuss border security with officials in the country’s southern Yunnan province.

Beijing has urged the Burmese government to maintain stability along its shared border following escalating tension over the UWSA’s reluctance to transform into a Border Guard Force, which would bring it under the wing of the Burmese army. Reports earlier this month of government workers returning to the volatile Wa region in Shan state suggests however that tension had eased.

“[Win Thein] said there shouldn’t be various armed groups in one country; that is not supposed to happen,” a Wa official told DVB on condition of anonymity. “He said that sooner or later, we will definitely have to transform [into a border force] – there is supposed to be only one army in the country.”

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 Wa official said that although the UWSA did not formally respond to the statement, it continues to urge peace with the government. The UWSA is Burma’s largest armed ethnic group and signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 1989, although that is now looking tenuous.

The group has also been labelled by the US government as one of the world’s top opium producers, although its output has significantly declined in the past decade. It has now reportedly switched to methamphetamine production, and a UN report released yesterday said Burma’s output of the drug has soared in the past year.

“We wish for development in the region and more crops to be grown here, rather than poppy fields [for opium],” said the Wa official. “We asked the government whether they wanted peace or war with us.”

He added that the group “has been busy” as it prepares for a visit by Chinese authorities to inspect whether poppy cultivation has been eliminated, but refused to elaborate on exactly how the group was preparing.The Shan Herald Agency for News reported however that it was organising a ‘”drug bonfire” to mark the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on 26 June.

The Wa also claims it is being assisted by the Chinese in the development of rubber plantations as a substitute for opium, with Beijing supplying farming equipment.

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