The rebel United Wa State Army (UWSA) has reportedly purchased an engineless helicopter and Fokker aircraft from Thailand, with the armed group planning to place the military hardware in a Shan State national park to “raise general knowledge among local people.”
Burma’s state-run Myanma Ahlin newspaper said on Tuesday that the UWSA revealed the acquisition, which also included an unspecified “water craft,” during a trip by a government peace delegation. The report comes in the wake of allegations last month that Chinese-supplied helicopters had made it into UWSA hands.
“We bought an old helicopter that doesn’t even have the engine or the tail boom, a small Fokker plane that also doesn’t have the engine and a water craft from Thailand,” Xiao Mingliang, vice chairman of the UWSA, was quoted as saying last Friday. “We just bought them so our people can gain knowledge.
“Compared to other areas, our area, which is known as the Shan State Special Region 2, has seen less development in past years. That’s why we’re planning to build a national park, to raise general knowledge among local people.”
Other than describing the provider as “from Thailand,” Xiao Mingliang failed to specify the exact source of the military hardware.
In addition to reportedly being engineless, a picture of the purported helicopter published in Myanma Ahlin shows the aircraft without a tail.
The visit to Shan State by the government’s Union Peacemaking Working Committee was led by its vice chairman, Thein Zaw, according to the report.
Xiao Mingliang’s explanation of the helicopter’s purpose was at odds with a UWSA soldier at the group’s liaison office in Lashio Township.
“We’ll use it so our soldiers can study the aircraft during military training,” the officer told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.
Another soldier from the same office in Lashio said the aircraft would only be placed on display at a museum and did not serve any sort of training purpose.
The news comes amid renewed speculation that the Chinese are supplying arms to the UWSA, Burma’s largest armed ethnic group commanding some 20,000 troops in eastern Shan State.
A report on April 29 from IHS Jane’s, a defense and intelligence think tank, said the UWSA had purchased an undetermined number of Mil Mi-17 “Hip” medium-transport helicopters from China that were armed with TY-90 air-to-air missiles.
Jane’s cited both Wa and government sources as verifying the purchase, though the Wa source said five choppers had been purchased while the government source put the number at just two. The think tank said the helicopters, received in late February and early March, would act as a “serious deterrent” to Mi-24P “Hind” helicopter gunships recently acquired by the Burma government from Russia.
The report was refuted by the Chinese Embassy in Rangoon.
“The Embassy would like to express deep dissatisfaction over the repeated publication of unfounded information by the parties concerned as it will not only mislead the readers from Myanmar and abroad, but also discredit the strong efforts by the Chinese side to contribute to the peace process in Myanmar,” it said in a statement on May 7.
The “repeated publication” was in reference to a previous report from Jane’s in December 2012. That report, which the embassy has also categorically denied, alleged that the Chinese had supplied surface-to-air missiles and 12 tank destroyers to the UWSA.
“As a close and good neighbor of Myanmar, China has always played a constructive role for promoting the peace process in Myanmar by repeatedly calling and facilitating the realization of a long-term and complete cease-fire by a peaceful resolution of disputes and differences through political dialogue,” the embassy added.
Wa sources also told The Irrawaddy last week that the helicopter report by Jane’s was false.
That stance was reaffirmed by Xiao Mingliang on Friday, according to Myanma Ahlin.
“I don’t know how news was carried by the JIR [Jane’s] that we have acquired five helicopters armed with air-to-air missiles,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.
Intermittent fighting broke out in Shan State in early April between the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) and government forces, with the fighting expanding to include an offensive against the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) last week.
The offensive in Shan State, contravening a ceasefire agreement signed between Naypyidaw and the Shan rebels, was aimed at gaining control of strategically important bases on the Salween River for a future attack on the UWSA, Shan and Kachin rebel sources told The Irrawaddy earlier in May.