In Person

UWSA Politician: Wa to ‘Continue Asking for Autonomous State’

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 29 June 2017

For the first time since the United Wa State Army (UWSA) began its anti-drug campaign in 1996, journalists were invited to witness the ethnic armed group destroying seized drugs on June 26.

The event took place in UWSA’s Military Region 171 in the southern area of the Wa Self-Administered Division bordering Thailand to mark the UN’s International Day Against Drug Abuse.

On the day, UWSA commander Yang Guozhong said opium poppy fields have now been completely eradicated from the southern part of the Wa Self-Administered Division after almost 30 years of UWSA’s efforts to distance itself from the reputation of being a drug producer.

Nyi Kep, deputy head of UWSA Military Region 171’s political department, recently talked with Irrawaddy reporter Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint about UWSA’s demand for autonomy and efforts for the eradication of drugs and arms smuggling in the area.

The UWSA is trying to negotiate with the government to achieve the standing of an autonomous state instead of a self-administered division. What compromises does the UWSA have to make to achieve this?

We are not prepared to make compromises. But we want an autonomous state. We need it. We’ll continue asking for it. We can do nothing if [the government] doesn’t give it, but we are not prepared to give and take.

We don’t have such an attitude that we would fight if we were not given an autonomous state. Whether we ask for an autonomous state or not, it will be fulfilled one day if there is peace and development. But we wish the government treated ethnicities with magnanimity. We don’t want it to shoot this or that ethnicity.

The UWSA has presented detailed policies about the type of state it wants to get. How confident is the UWSA of entering political dialogue with the government?

We have trust in the government. That’s why we have lived [with the government] here for ages. We have trust in them.

Unlike other areas controlled by ethnic armed groups, Military Region 171 is near military outposts of the Tatmadaw. How are the relations between the two sides?

There are many difficulties because of the proximity. But we can do nothing, at least for the time being. When this area was controlled by [drug warlord] Khun Sa, we assisted [the military] in attacking him. As we defeated Khun Sa, the government gave us this place. And now government troops are stationed here, with our troops stationed alongside. We can do nothing. We Wa attacked Khun Sa and [Shan ethnic and political leader] Yawd Serk when they were powerful.

Much of the international community, including Thailand, which borders the Wa Self-Administered Division, claim drugs are smuggled into Thailand from the UWSA. What do you say to this?

We are dedicated to fighting against drugs in our special region. We go to villages and inspect every house to fight drugs. But whenever drugs are seized, Thailand keeps saying those drugs come from Wa State. They are giving us a bad name. They lay the blame at our door and only care for their interests. The Thai government always asks us to back off our outposts at the Thai border, but it is not our government. We will never back off the posts, which were given to us by our government.

The Thai government also links arms smuggling in its territory to the UWSA.

Yes, we know there are such allegations. But we are not the only ethnic armed group in the region. There is the Lahu [group] as well as other ethnic armed groups. I just don’t want to name their names. We know which groups are involved. Yes, Thai authorities have reported seizures of smuggled arms, and we know who they are. But it is not us. We don’t smuggle arms to Thailand and we don’t receive arms smuggled from Thailand.

We also arrest those who are responsible, and could arrest some armed men involved in arms deals.

Does the UWSA plan to establish ties with Thai authorities?

No. Previously, we did have a plan, but the Thai authorities drove us away. They didn’t let us stay. They are scheming and just take advantage of our name.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko