State Counselor, Military Chief to Skip Wa’s 30th Anniversary Celebration

By The Irrawaddy 16 April 2019

PANGHSANG, Wa Self-Administered Zone—Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and military chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing will not attend the United Wa State Army’s 30th anniversary celebrations despite having received invitations from Myanmar’s largest ethnic armed group.

The UWSA is gearing up to celebrate the event on a grand scale on Wednesday in Panghsang, the Wa capital on the Chinese border in northern Shan State. The Wa army will mark its 30th anniversary with a military parade of 7,600 troops before more than 3,000 visitors, including leaders of other ethnic armed groups, Beijing’s Special Envoy for Asian Affairs Sun Guoxiang, and officials from China’s Yunnan province across the border.

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

The UWSA has not yet signed the government’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). It serves as the chair of the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) alliance, some of whose members are still fighting the Myanmar Army.

The government has pressured the UWSA to sign the NCA, but it and other members of the FPNCC want the government to amend some parts of the agreement first.

According to UWSA liaison officer U Nyi Rang, the government will be represented at Wednesday’s event by eight officials including Union Minister for Labor, Immigration and Population U Thein Swe, Peace Commission Vice Chair U Thein Zaw and President Office’s spokesperson U Zaw Htay.

UWSA troops prepare on Sunday for a military parade to celebrate the armed group’s 30th anniversary on Wednesday. / Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy

Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun of the Myanmar military’s information team told The Irrawaddy that Snr-Gen. Min Aung Hlaing would not attend the celebration.

“We are not sure if we will send any representative,” he said.

However, U Nyi Rang said Shan State Minister for Security and Border Affairs Colonel Hla Oo would join the UWSA’s celebration.

Government and top military leaders rarely accept invitations to attend commemorative events held by ethnic armed groups, especially those that have yet to ink peace deals such as the NCA with them.

Their decision not to attend, especially Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s, has disappointed the UWSA leadership, according to some Wa officials. Given the State Counselor’s tours to other ethnic regions, they said, they had hoped she would attend their commemorative event and had even prepared special accommodations for her.

While many were invited, foreign ambassadors and representatives of international NGOs will not be making the trip either, as the Wa Self-Administered Zone is officially off-limits to foreigners.

Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution acknowledges Wa areas in Shan State as self-administered, but Wa leaders have been lobbying the government to recognize their region as a state like other ethnic regions in the country.