Myanmar’s Most Powerful Ethnic Armed Group Ready to Fight Rival

By The Irrawaddy 24 January 2022

The United Wa State Army (UWSA), the most powerful ethnic armed group in Myanmar, is deploying troops in Khaing Lone, a town in southern Shan State, announced the UWSA-run Wa State TV on Saturday.

The deployment follows widespread rumors on social media that the UWSA is preparing for a possible attack by rival ethnic armed group the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), whose headquarters Loi Tai Leng is adjacent to Khaing Lone.

Hundreds of UWSA soldiers including the elite commando unit along with artillery have been deployed in Khaing Lone, which is part of the territory of UWSA military region 171, according to the Chinese-language news broadcast aired by Wa State TV.

The report said that the UWSA would not launch an assault, but will decisively repulse any incursions into military region 171.

The RCSS has alleged that the UWSA is assisting its rival, the Shan State Progress Party, the political wing of the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N).

Both SSPP/SSA-N, and the RCSS and its armed wing the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) were formed to seek autonomy for Shan State. The RCSS is active in southern Shan State, while the SSPP is based in the north. However, the SSA-S also operates in northern Shan State and has been fighting the SSA-N for years over territorial disputes.

The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) is also fighting alongside the SSPP/SSA-N.

The RCSS reportedly sent a letter to the UWSA recently, warning that it would attack the ethnic Wa group’s military region 171 if it continued to back up the SSPP/SSA-N and the TNLA.

The Irrawaddy was unable to reach the UWSA’s Lashio liaison officer Nyi Rang for a comment.

RCSS Secretary 2 Major Kham San told The Irrawaddy that there are no military tensions between the two sides on the ground.

RCSS troops./ Kyaw Kha / The Irrawaddy

Major Kham San said: “I don’t know exactly about the letter. But, as you know, there has been a lot of misinformation on [social] media, claiming that there were clashes here and there. So things are sensitive.”

He also denied local news reports that the RCSS and the junta had held talks in Thailand, in which the ethnic armed group agreed to transport aviation fuel for the military regime.

A political analyst who asked for anonymity also dismissed the warning letter as fake news and said that it is unlikely that the two sides will clash.

“The UWSA has deployed troops because of the misinformation. I heard that the RCSS has told the UWSA that it was misinformation, and that they will not attack them,” he said.

The UWSA’s military region oversees Mong Hsat District in southern Shan State with a population of some 80,000 Wa people. Five UWSA brigades are based there.

The RCSS and the UWSA engaged in fierce fighting to the east of the Salween River in southern Shan State between 2002 and 2005. Since then, the two groups have observed an unofficial ceasefire.

The RCSS, which signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement with U Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government in 2015, has attempted to increase its presence in northern Shan State since last year’s coup. The UWSA reportedly dispatched hundreds of its troops to assist the SSPP/SSA-N and the TNLA in the subsequent clashes.

The RCSS has reportedly lost a number of its strongholds in northern Shan State, areas where China-backed investment is planned to be implemented.

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