‘We Have Been Subjected to International Pressure’

By Lawi Weng 5 May 2015

Ethnic leaders are currently meeting in Panghsang, the headquarters of the secretive United Wa State Army (UWSA), to discuss the draft text of a proposed nationwide ceasefire agreement negotiated between the government and ethnic armed groups in March.

On Monday, after a private meeting with ethnic armed group leaders, Bao summoned journalists for a rare interview opportunity. Speaking through spokesman and interpreter Aung Myint, he told The Irrawaddy that the UWSA will only sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement if the 2008 military-drafted Constitution was amended to accommodate a federal system of governance, defended the UWSA’s demands for self-administered territory, and insisted that the regions under UWSA control were no longer growing opium, which funded much of the area’s initial development.

What is the UWSA’s political stance on the nationwide ceasefire agreement?

In this case, we will analyze the final result that comes out of this ethnic summit. We want to see what case it makes for signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement. We will decide whether we will sign or not after we can analyze all the facts arising from the meeting.

The main key is to have amendments to the Constitution. If there are amendments to the Constitution, other ethnic groups, including our Wa, will sign the [accord].

In your opinion, what is the difference between the military regime of Snr-Gen Than Shwe and the parliamentary government of President Thein Sein?

There is no difference. They are the same.

Why have the Wa repeatedly asked for self-governance of the territory they control?

If there is no village to live, there will be no place for Wa people to work and survive.

The Wa region is very developed, and it appears the UWSA is acting as a de facto government. Is this the case?

There are other regions too where [ethnic armed groups] run their regions like a government. For the survival of our people, we have to work to develop the region. If there is no one working for the development of this region, how can our people survive?

It appears from the decision to host this ethnic conference and the invitation extended to local media, the UWSA is working to improve its image. The UWSA has been frowned upon in the past because of its involvement in opium production, including by the US and other Western countries.

There are many things to say on this point. For Western countries, especially for America, they have many problems that they are not equipped to solve. But they point their finger at us. We have been subjected to international pressure. This region has grown opium for over 120 years, but on this issue they have put a lot of pressure on us.

We want to say clearly to America and other Western countries: you cannot claim that your faces are clean, but you point to the black spots on ours. They should not speak to us like this.

Because of this pressure, we had to eradicate opium in the regions we control. We understand that opium production could lead to the genocide of our people. Therefore, we worked to eradicate opium with the cooperation of our people. Our region no longer grows opium. On Jun. 26, it will be a decade since the end of opium production in our region.

(Editors note: The UWSA remains subject to a 2003 declaration by the US Drug Enforcement Agency which listed the army as a drug trafficking organization. Bao Youxiang was indicted alongside seven other leaders during a 2005 US Federal Court session over the UWSA’s role in the export of heroin to the United States. The UWSA is not part of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, the alliance of 16 ethnic parties which negotiated the ceasefire text with the Burmese government.)