Ruling Party Members Meet Powerful UWSA in Panghsang

By Lawi Weng 2 May 2016

RANGOON — Three members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) met leaders from the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Burma’s largest ethnic armed group, at the latter’s Panghsang headquarters last week, according to a source along the Sino-Burmese border, as the new government begins delving into the country’s fractious peace process.

Kyi Myint, a spokesperson for the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the two sides “discussed how they will cooperate in the new government’s work for peace and development of the country.” Kyi Myint is close to UWSA leaders and his armed group has an informal alliance with the Wa.

Xiao Ming Liang, vice chairman of the UWSA, and other senior leaders from the group met the three NLD members on April 28 in Panghsang, capital of the Wa Special Region in northeastern Shan State.

According to Kyi Myint, the three NLD members—Soe Htay, Than Lwin, and Myint Kyi—were not visiting Panghsang as official envoys of the new government.

“As I understand, they did not go as a delegation from the government. They visited there in a personal capacity. … This group was not sent by Daw Suu [NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi],” said Kyi Myint.

UWSA leaders, Kyi Myint added, warmly welcomed the delegation and believed that the three NLD members would convey the meeting’s takeaways to Suu Kyi and her government despite the informal nature of their visit.

Soe Htay is an elected Lower House lawmaker representing Kawkareik Township in Karen State. Than Lwin is an NLD parliamentary communications officer, while Myint Kyi is a member of the Myanmar-China Friendship Association.

Both the NLD and UWSA have appeared reluctant to discuss the meeting. Zhao Gaoan, a spokesperson for the UWSA, refused to offer comment when contacted by The Irrawaddy by phone.

Tun Tun Hein, an NLD central executive committee member, said he had not heard anything about his party sending the three men to Panghsang.

Last week Suu Kyi, the NLD chairwoman and Burma’s state counselor, met delegations from the eight non-state armed groups that signed a so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement in October, along with members of the Burma Army.

The UWSA is not among the ceasefire signatories, though a 1989 truce between the group and successive central governments has held strong over the years.

Kyi Myint said his NDAA and UWSA leaders had agreed to participate in the coming NLD-led peace negotiations with the aim of furthering the country’s development.