Wa Rebels Caught Up in Regional Chess Match

A report on Monday said helicopter gunships equipped with TY-90 air-to-air missiles, pictured, were sold by the Chinese to Wa ethnic rebels. (Photo: wiki.livedoor.jp)

RANGOON — China did not sell helicopter gunships to ethnic Wa paramilitaries in eastern Burma, Wa sources speaking to The Irrawaddy claimed this week.

The alleged deal was reported by Jane’s Intelligence Review on Monday, citing Burmese government and Wa sources.

But as the Burmese military steps up its offensive against ethnic rebels in Shan State, it looks increasingly likely that the relationship between Beijing and Naypyidaw will be put to the test in a battle for control of trade routes and resources in the Golden Triangle.

Jane’s on Monday reported that China gave the Wa several Mil Mi-17 “Hip” medium-transport helicopters armed with TY-90 air-to-air missiles in late February and early March. The report claimed the gunships would act as a deterrent against Burmese military action against the United Wa State Army (UWSA) — the most powerful ethnic army in Burma, with an estimated 20,000 well-equipped fighters.

But two Wa sources on Tuesday denied any knowledge of the sale of Chinese hardware.

“We are assuming the report is incorrect, that it is just made up,” Aung Myint, a spokesman for the UWSA, told The Irrawaddy by phone from a UWSA stronghold on the China-Burma border. “Who among us has the capability to pilot these helicopters?”

A senior UWSA officer in Shan State also denied that the Chinese had supplied the helicopters.

On Tuesday, the Chinese Embassy in Rangoon also refuted the Jane’s report. The embassy posted: “As a responsible country and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China unswervingly complies with the relevant UN legislations on weapons sales and imposes very strict regulations on the trade.

“As a good neighbor and true friend to Myanmar, China would never seek to establish any kind of illegal relations with any parties or organizations in Myanmar,” the embassy said.

Renewed fighting in eastern Burma could give the government full control of the region’s strategic resources and pave the way for future assaults on the Wa.

The UWSA’s Aung Myint said it was a bad omen that there had been renewed fighting in Shan State, while the government has been attempting to enter into peace negotiations and maintain ceasefire agreements with ethnic rebels.

“It is not good to see this fighting reported in the wake of the peace deals,” he said.

The UWSA signed a peace accord with the Burmese government in 1989, but in recent months peace agreements with the neighboring Shan and Kachin rebels have broken down into open conflict.

Despite the denials, Burma expert Bertil Lintner said on Tuesday that the helicopter deal had gone ahead. The Burmese government is moving to gain control of the Shan State Army-North’s mountainous bases on the western bank of the Salween River, he said, for an eventual offensive against the Wa rebels.

Other experts agreed, saying the Burmese military intended to position its forces against the Wa.

“Since the Burmese government signed a ceasefire with the Shan, they haven’t withdrawn any troops, but rather they have reinforced their troops,” said Aung Kyaw Zaw, an analyst based on the China-Burma border. “That is not a good sign. So, the Wa want to prepare [for a possible war].”

As Lintner wrote in a March Yale Global article, “China does not want another war. By letting the UWSA acquire heavy weaponry, China sends a strong message to Naypyidaw: Don’t mess with us.”

Throughout April, Burmese military forces have fought pitched battles with an alliance of ethnic rebels in northern Shan State, on the western bank of the strategically vital Salween River, which runs from the Tibetan Plateau to the Andaman Sea. The UWSA controls positions on the eastern side of the river in Shan State.

The Burmese military in early April gave the rebels an ultimatum: move out of the area or face consequences. Shan forces rejected the ultimatum and fighting ensued.

Last week, Burmese government troops reinforced their positions at bases in Shan State, including in Lashio, the largest town in the northern part of the state. Tensions remain high, according to sources in the area, who asked to remain anonymous, as military supplies and armor have been brought in to back up light infantry units on the frontline.

Several analysts contacted by The Irrawaddy, who all wished to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the situation, said Burmese government troops wanted to capture four strategic bases on the western bank of the Salween River. The bases are seen as key to keeping open lines of communication for the UWSA.

The battle for control of the Salween in Shan State has drawn in allied fighters from the Shan State Army-North (SSA-North), Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, all members of the United Nationalities Federation Council (UNFC).

The UNFC alliance holds territory on the western bank of the Salween, while the Wa control significant territory on the eastern bank. Capturing SSA-North bases by the river would give the military staging posts for attacks into Wa territory, while also offering protection to strategically important oil pipelines running from Arakan State into China, and Chinese-backed hydropower projects planned for the Salween. China has a lot at stake in this fight.

The UWSA “might not use the helicopters, as often fighting has only broken out because of misunderstandings,” said Duu Gya, a former KIA leader. “Burmese military commanders have a great interest in dialogue with ethnic groups and securing peace.”

Last year, a report by Janes Intelligence Review also accused China of selling or delivering weapons, including ground-to-air missiles and 12 tank destroyers, to the UWSA. China also denied it in January.

The Janes Intelligence report at the time said China had made a transfer of Chinese-made PTL02 wheeled tank destroyers in mid-2012.

Observers believe that fighting is also expected to break out again in Tangyan Township, where clashes between the SSA-North and Burmese army troops disrupted the shaky ceasefire agreement in early April.

Fighting is reportedly escalating, with clashes between troops from the KIA’s fourth and eighth brigades and Burmese government forces common, sources in Shan State told The Irrawaddy.

Sources on the ground in Shan State said there were ongoing concerns for the safety of civilians displaced by the violence.

More than 1,000 people have reportedly been displaced since early April, but only a few dozen men have returned to their villages. Relief workers and Shan journalists in the area said villagers returning home were risking their lives to farm and work on their plantations.

Peace negotiations between Naypyidaw and the Kachin rebels were expected this month, but the China-backed peace talks between the Burmese government and the Kachin could be some way off. A dispute over whether international observers should be allowed to attend the meeting has put the rebels and the Burmese government at odds with China

The Burmese government’s chief negotiator, Aung Min, and his team of internationally trained advisers at the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), have made little progress in more than a dozen rounds of talks since the Kachin-Burma ceasefire broke down in June 2011.

“The Kachin are waiting for Aung Min to determine a new round of peace talks, but we will probably not hear anything until the end of the month,” the former KIA leader Duu Gya said. “It all depends on the Chinese. The Kachin want foreign observers at the next round of peace talks, so they can negotiate properly. But China is blocking this.

“It is still very difficult to trust the [Burmese government] based on their actions in the past, although the peace committee headed by Aung Min has agreed that there should be international observers there.

“I am hopeful for the peace talks, so that in the future we can step up political dialogue between the Kachin and the government.”

Despite the Aung Min-led delegation’s ostensible work to achieve a lasting peace with ethnic armed groups, what is happening on the ground between government troops and ethnic rebels tells a different story, observers said.

Aung Kyaw Zaw claims to have obtained a leaked military document that outlines the military’s top priority as the elimination of the ethnic armed groups.

Military sources from Naypyidaw also reported that the newly appointed Sr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, the chief of the Burmese armed forces, has a plan to wipe out all ethnic armed groups including the UWSA in order to control all of Burma’s frontier territories.

11 Responses to Wa Rebels Caught Up in Regional Chess Match

  1. Isn’t Burma a sovereign country? Why are all these ultra-nationalists 969ers so quiet about these more dangerous “aliens” Why are they only picking on Muslims? Why is everyone in Burma so scared of the greedy selfish Chinese? Just kick them out. If they say they want their investment back, Burma can always default. Even richer countries have done that The Chinese can go bother the North Koreans if they want. They should leave Burma alone. Burma has enough problems of its own: poverty, corruption , cronyism, land grabs, environmental degradation (through clear cutting, poisonous mines etc.), racial and religious intolerance Muslims, etc. etc. and the Chinese are just making it worse (or perhaps they want to create chaos in the country if they don’t get what they want?)

    • Burma is not a sovereign country. The Union of Burma is a sovereign country. The Union of Burma was formed with multi-ethnic peoples. You never consider the ethnics as decision-makers for the Union of Burma. You must try to learn how the Union of Burma was formed. Shanland was a sovereign nation. Kachinland was a sovereign nation. Chinland was a sovereign nation. British military occupied them separately. That’s why to form a Union, Aung San invited the leaders from the said lands. Arakan and Mon were already under the control of the Burmese king when they were occupied. So, they were represented by the Burmese leader. The Wa people were part of the Shanland. Now, you have no chance to speak on behalf of them. Let the citizens of Shanland discuss for their future. You, the Burmese, have no business there. You guys need to study how the Union of Burma came into existence. You guys pissed me off. Talking without knowing the history is leading us into more problems. Before you say something, you need to learn first.

      • 100% agree with Historian for teaching arrogant some Bama with the evidence based practices. Bama military is and was so-called thugs from U nu to until now. Some bama and bama military thugs do not and did not know what is the union of Burma.
        In history , WW2-Myithkyina crucial battle with Japan was conquered by Chinese nationalist army (KMT) mainly, not by allied British and US army in the street to street fight. Kachin is the first army to conquer Japan occupation before General Aung san betrayed his Japan friend , army on 27th March.
        People liberation army from communist helped Ne win to drive out KMT invasion and station in Shan state where was supported by the help of USA to KMT.
        The Job of bama military thugs were and are killing karen, kachin, Shan and all other small minorities, Rohingya and now Muslim. All ethnics trusted General Aung san’s lip service , Kyat slogan for equal right to sign Aung san’s panglong agreement. To avoid hornoring panglong agreement , Aung san was killed by his jealous bama friends AND HIS RELATIVE.
        Now , than shwe and thein sein are enjoying ethnics cleansing or cultural revolution by copying Milosevis in killing Kosavo Muslim incident and Chairman Moa for power consolidation respectively as well.
        World see Burmese are no longer Buddhism religious, no sincere, no generous , no human value , with betraying , being jealous , being uneducated and manipulative in the world poorest country.

      • Well perhaps, the Shan, the Wa, the Palaung, the Pa’o, the Jingphaw, the Akha, the Tarong, the Lisu, the Rawang, the Zomi, the Karen, the Rohingyas, the Salone, the Kadu, the Yaw, the Mon, …, 135 of them should all become part of China, if they believe minorities are treated better by the Han Chinese but first ask the Uyghurs and the Tibetans!

        • andamanonge

          Your comments merely serve to illustrate the supreme arrogance of the Burman. When the 135 you mention (and I’m surprised you don’t refer to 134 + Rohingya) have suffered murder, rape and pillage at the hands of the (Burmese) Tatmadawgyi for the past 60 years, the Han Chinese could hardly be much worse. You may think that Myanmar’s main problem is lack of democracy, but it isn’t. The biggest problem in Myanmar today is that of ethnic rights and how they.have been trampled on since the 1950s.

          The Union of Myanmar, as we know it today, came about as the result of two things, the Panglong Agreement of 12 February 1947 and the Constitution of the Union of Burma 1947. Prior to that the ‘Frontier Areas’ or ‘Primitive Areas’, as the ethnic areas were known, were not controlled by the Burman. Indeed if you go back to the Sagaing era, the opposite was the case. The Chin, Kachin and Shan became part of the Union as a result of the agreement at Panglong and the Constitution of 1947. The Karen, on the other hand, did not accept the Union even in 1947 and theirs is a slightly different case.

          The 1947 Constitution cannot be abrogated unilaterally by the Burman; it requires the consent of the ethnics and by that I mean each individual ethnic minority referred to in the Constitution.. Read articles 201 to 206 if you don’t understand what I mean. In other words the present day legal constitution of the Union is that of 1947 and anything which has followed is invalid. Whether you like it or not, the only settlement that is valid, or acceptable to the ethnics, has to be based on those two documents.

          • On a personal note, when I was a kid growing up in Burma, the other kids used to call me Kalar, because of my dark skin, so I must have some Rohingya blood if not Onge (Kappli) blood from Andaman Islands in me. I am not sure whether I really belong to any of those 135 tribes according to all these stupid Burmese Constitutions, 1947, 1972,1982, 2007, so maybe I was never strictly speaking a true Burmese citizen, let alone a “racist Burman”. Oh well who cares, there are tons of Chinese who are “Burmese citizens” lol. I now live in a country where citizenship is not defined by race or tribal ethnicity although I do realize that roughly 75% of the political refugees from Burma in Western countries are either “ethnics” or just plain Chinese from Burma. I don’t think a lot of them applied for political asylum in China (except for the late Brigadier Kyaw Zaw!)

  2. If you believe what China says, you are an idiot. For the Chinese, money is god. They do whatever for money. Wait! Chinese believe money can buy everything. They are buying Burmese concubines. Burmese women seem so cheap to the Chinese. We need to keep our sisters away from Paukphaw. Now, they denied that they did not sell helico[ters to the Wa army. Do you believe that? They sell weapons to the Wa, Kachin and Shan. The problem is they sell weapons to the Burmese too. They want all of us die and the Chinese occupy the whole Burma.

    • hi
      Now, i do not mind UK,US, China, Japan and south Korean to occupy Burma instead of bama military thugs i fed up. I like oxford, Harvard-apple ph, Japan-toyota, China-yuan and south Korean movies.
      The most suitable one is Wa strong army if wa, ( i am not sure wa is Chinese origin or not as they speak one Chinese dialect and use of yuan money ) is the real Burmese ethnics accepted by bama militry thugs who do not accept Rohingya because of Bangladesh origin ( double standard). It is the best time for claiming independent state of wa if bama military thugs do not accept Wa is the Burmese ethnic. If accept , Wa is from Shan state, so Wa or Shan can rule Burma according to Panglong agreement or union of Burma for their turn to be a president of union of Burma , followed by Kachin, Chin and Kayar alternately with the last is DASSK again for bama.
      Do you think it is fair enough for all as a Buddhism?

      • You would need 135 States. Don’t forget the Rawang, the Palaung, the Pa’O the Lisu, the Akha, the Tarong, the Salone, the Rohingya, the Intha, etc. etc. They don’t want to be bullied by the Kachin/Jingphaw, Shan/Tai, Wa/Kokang/Chinese either. So let’s split up Burma into 135 + 3 states, all provinces of China. Then I don’t have to follow news in Irrawaddy. I will just learn Mandarin and read Chinese news about a former independent country where I was born (unfortunately? lol)

  3. I just want to say if we don’t know the history of formation of modern union of burma, the more we will be divided and the easier they the regime can manipulate us and the longer they will be on power and the suffering of the citizens of Union of Burma will goes on… Apparently that is what is going on in Burma and the division among the Multi-ethnics of Burma is the luck for the generals..

  4. Burma (or the Union of blah blah blah) **ALREADY** is a province of China. They’re even in Tenasserim (Dawei, Myeik, …) region, not only northern border area!

    (ex-)Bamars rulers *sold* half of the country because these very Bamars aren’t really interested in Myanmar any longer: too hot, too many mosquitos, etc. These Bamars live abroad as jetset, spending the millions of USD they stole the last 50 years or so.

    They come to Myanmar for holiday and have a good laugh with “those silly clowns in longyis”.

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