Shan, Wa Rebels Clash Over Gold in Eastern Burma

By Nyein Nyein 8 April 2014

Clashes broke out between the Shan State Army South and the United Wa State Army over the weekend, with the fighting brought on by a dispute over Wa gold mining activities in southern Shan State’s Mong Pan Township.

Officials from the Restoration Council of Shan State, the political wing of the SSA-S, said the clashes began on Saturday morning, with the altercation reportedly stemming from continued Wa gold mining activities in an RCSS-controlled area of Mong Pan, a territory near the Salween River in eastern Burma.

The Wa control land east of the Salween near Mong Tong Township, where UWSA troops regularly provide security for Wa companies mining gold along the river. The SSA-S controls Mong Pan, west of the Salween, with the weekend clashes occurring some 20 miles south of the town.

Col Aung Kyan Murng, the coordinator of RCSS’s Mong Pan liaison office, told The Irrawaddy that the fighting occurred because the Wa had crossed the river to the west. “Their territory is on the eastern side of the Salween,” he said.

The fighting took place at just after 9 am on Saturday, with both RCSS and Wa troops converging on the area. One Wa soldier was reportedly killed and another injured, Aung Kyan Murng said.

The UWSA could not be reached for comment. The RCSS said it had not been in contact with the UWSA since the fighting.

A local RCSS official in Mong Pan, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Irrawaddy that the clashes occurred because the UWSA had not complied with an RCSS demand that the Wa cease mining operations in RCSS territory.

Locals said the clashes continued on Monday, but Aung Kyan Murng could not confirm those accounts and said the RCSS was still trying to make contact with its troops in the area concerned.

“The Wa must leave the territory—if not, the fighting is likely to continue,” said a local RCSS official. He added that “leaders of both parties should talk about it, the problem will not be solved only with troops on the ground.”

Territories between the two ethnic rebel groups have been delineated via mutual agreement, and rules are in place that forbid incursions into the other’s area of control. The Salween River, running north to south through the area, divides the two sides and demarcates their respective territories.

Both armed rebel groups provide security for affiliated gold mining enterprises in Shan State.

The UWSA governs two autonomous “special administrative regions” carved out of Shan State, consisting of separate territories in the northern and southern reaches of the state that were granted under the 2008 military-backed Constitution. Ethnic Wa rebels signed a ceasefire with the Burmese government in 1989.

The RCSS signed a ceasefire with the government in 2012 and has opened liaison offices to communicate with the local military and to oversee business and development projects, as is the case for many of the other ethnic armed groups in Burma that have signed ceasefires with Naypyidaw.