Powerful Armed Ethnic Group Launches Its Own Military Academy in Myanmar

By Htet Naing Zaw 15 September 2020

NAYPYITAW—The most powerful ethnic armed group in Myanmar has established its own military academy.

More than 30 years after signing a ceasefire with the government, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) opened the new military academy on Sept. 11 in the village of Yaung Tein in Panghsang, in the area under the control of the armed group.

UWSA chairman Bao Youxiang, military chief Zhao Zhongtang, External Relations Department head Zhao Guoan and other UWSA officers attended the opening ceremony with more than 100 cadets expected to receive military training as part of the academy’s first incoming class.

UWSA spokesperson and liaison officer Nyi Rang, based in Shan State’s Lashio Township, said the military academy aims to build future leaders.

“We intend to turn out [leaders for] future generations, literate ones for the modern age. Every organization should have its own military academies and military training schools,” Nyi Rang said.

Through the military academy, the UWSA hopes to teach the younger generation how to cope with the challenges of modern times, both conceptually and technically. Details of the subjects and teaching methods, however, are still unclear.

“The educational process will last for four years. There is a need to upgrade the conceptual and technical skills of the armed forces… The political and military training schools need to improve in line with changing times,” Nyi Rang said.

The academy has been in the planning stage for years, he said, adding that previously, military training sessions were organized randomly.

Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said the UWSA should focus more on the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), which the group has yet to sign, than on opening a military academy.

Weapons on display at the 30th anniversary of the founding of the UWSA. / Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy

“We have repeatedly said that armed groups should not expand their forces or territories while walking on the path to peace. The stance of the Tatmadaw is that [the UWSA] should focus on the NCA, and work for permanent peace in the interests of the Union,” Maj-Gen Zaw Min Tun said.

To mark the 30th anniversary of its bilateral ceasefire pact with the government, the UWSA held a military parade in April last year in Panghsang, showing off some of its military hardware including drones and anti-aircraft missiles.

At the time, Myanmar military leaders said they put up with the UWSA’s grand-scale parade for the sake of the peace process, despite the fact that the group was acting as if it were a parallel government with a parallel army.

Founded on April 17, 1989, the UWSA signed a ceasefire with Myanmar’s then military government—the State Law and Order Restoration Council—in the same year, after splitting from the Communist Party of Burma (CPB).

It also founded the United Wa State Party and the Wa State People’s Government. Since then the UWSA has quietly grown into the largest, best-equipped ethnic armed group in Myanmar with an estimated 30,000 troops and 10,000 auxiliary members, according to Myanmar Peace Monitor.

Since the ceasefire deal in 1989, there have been no clashes between the UWSA and the Tatmadaw.

The Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) led by the UWSA—a bloc of seven ethnic groups—has been demanding an alternative to the NCA in making peace with the national government.

The relationship between the government and Wa leaders has deteriorated since Myanmar military intelligence chief General Khin Nyunt was purged in a power struggle, according to peace and security expert Dr. Min Zaw Oo.

“The lack of a negotiation channel is part of the problem. The establishment of the FPNCC and the demand that negotiations must be held as a group serve no one’s interests. Throughout the history of Myanmar, negotiations were largely bilateral. In fact, the FPNCC is just for show. There must be direct negotiation between the UWSA and the government,” he said.

“Normally, all the [ethnic] armed groups have military training. While the KIA [Kachin Independence Army] and TNLA [Ta’ang National Liberation Army] have military academies, I think the UWSA is trying to systematically nurture commanders starting from the grassroots level,” said political analyst U Maung Maung Soe.

Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution acknowledges the Wa areas in Shan State as a self-administered region, covering six townships split between two districts. Although such zones are supposed to be under the control of the central government, the Wa effectively exercise total control over the area with their own government and administration.

The UWSA demands complete autonomy, like other ethnic armed groups in Myanmar. It has attracted criticism for its close ties with China.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

You may also like these stories:

Children Killed by Artillery Strike Spark International Charity Calls to End War in Western Myanmar

Rakhine Parties Slam COVID-19 Campaign Restrictions Ahead of Myanmar’s Election

Military ‘Burns Down’ Rakhine Village in Western Myanmar: Residents