UWSA Expected to Show Off Enhanced Arsenal at 30th Anniversary Parade

By The Irrawaddy 10 April 2019

YANGON—Members of Myanmar’s largest ethnic armed group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), are busier than ever preparing celebrations for the group’s 30th anniversary on April 17.

The four-day-long event starting April 14 is scheduled to be held in the Wa capital of Panghsang on the Chinese border in northern Shan State. Senior figures from many of Myanmar’s other ethnic armed groups are expected to attend, along with China’s Special Envoy for Asian Affairs Sun Guoxiang and officials from China’s Yunnan province across the border. It is said that Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing have been invited, along with some retired Army chiefs. The media have been welcomed to witness a large-scale military parade to be presided over by Wa supremo Chairman Bao Youxiang.

Founded on April 17, 1989, the UWSA signed a ceasefire with the Myanmar military 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 is expected to flex its military muscles during the parade on April 17 by showing off its arsenal.

According to Asia Times, the UWSA’s arsenal includes new batches of basic infantry systems fielded in the CPB era: light and heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars, and recoilless rifles.

But there are other entirely new systems, author Anthony Davis noted. These include more modern Chinese infantry weapons such as the QBZ-95 assault rifle only adopted in bulk by the People’s Liberation Army in the early 2000s. The new QBZ-95 has been acquired to supplement locally produced Wa copies of the Chinese T-81 assault rifle. Modern Chinese CS/LS06 9mm sub-machine guns and M-99 12.7mm anti-materiel rifles also mark new additions to the Wa arsenal.

“At the same time, heavier and more sophisticated Chinese systems also provided a qualitative boost to UWSA capabilities. The FN-6 man-portable air defense system (MANPADS) went to upgrade first-generation Chinese missiles already in the UWSA inventory. The HJ-8 Red Arrow wire-guided anti-tank missiles also constituted a marked improvement on a Wa anti-armor capability that had earlier relied on rocket-propelled grenades and recoilless rifles,” the author writes.

On artillery capability, the article says, there are larger jeep-mounted 105mm recoilless guns and additional NORINCO 122mm howitzers and quantities of 107mm surface-to-surface free-flight missiles. The acquisition of new tactical trucks and, more strikingly, China’s Xinxing (New Star) wheeled armored personnel carriers (APC) have given a new boost to infantry mobility.

The UWSA held a large celebration for its 20th anniversary in 2009. For this year’s celebration, the Wa Army began preparations last year. At its schools and military bases, it has trained local youth to march with various types of weapons including rifles and artillery pieces, according to Nyi Rang, a UWSA spokesperson. He told The Irrawaddy last year that the armed group would use about 500 youths for the military parade and for traditional cultural music and dance performances at the event.

The UWSA has not yet signed the 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 Myanmar 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.