UWSA Vows Peaceful End to Tensions With Burma Army

By Kyaw Kha 30 June 2015

The United Wa State Army (UWSA) says it has committed to peacefully resolving military tensions with government troops in the Mongton Township village of Pon Pa Kyin in eastern Shan State.

Tensions there arose after Burma Army personnel arrested 16 members of the UWSA who were cutting down trees in Mongton Township on June 1 and began legal proceedings against the men on the grounds that they were logging illegally.

Last week, UWSA representatives held talks with a government delegation in the capital Naypyidaw, but the meeting reportedly failed to defuse the tensions.

“Government troops are still [in the township] and so are our troops,” Aung Myint, a UWSA spokesman, told The Irrawaddy. “But both sides are trying to resolve things peacefully and are exercising caution to avoid problems.”

The Burma Army has released the 16 UWSA members, but continued militarization by both sides in the Wa Special Region and surrounding townships has hindered a full resolution.

The Burma Army’s deputy commander in chief, Snr-Gen Soe Win, made a recent visit to eastern Shan State, meeting with Lt-Gen Aung Than Htut of the Office of the Commander in Chief and senior regional military leaders.

Aung Myint said he had heard that President Thein Sein has instructed the Burma Army to avoid clashes with the UWSA, and the Wa group’s spokesman added that he was optimistic the tensions would soon dissipate.

“The government does not want to fight and we also can’t afford to lose the peace that we have maintained for 26 years,” said Aung Myint, referring to a longstanding ceasefire between the two sides.

While the latest tension has been linked to the arrest of the 16 UWSA members, Khun Sai, the chief editor of Shan Herald News Agency, said more deep-rooted differences—over matters such as the Wa Special Region’s autonomous status, the nexus of Sino-Burmese-Wa relations and the illicit narcotics trade—were likely to be complicating factors, as well as “undeclared disputes.”

“I don’t think mere logging would create tensions,” Khun Sai told The Irrawaddy. “They need to negotiate thoroughly to avoid clashes. Unless they negotiate, they will not be able to resolve [tensions].”

The UWSA is the largest ethnic armed group in Burma, with some military observers estimating that it has more than 30,000 troops at its disposal. The UWSA has opted not to participate in the Burmese government’s ongoing efforts to reach a nationwide ceasefire agreement with Burma’s ethnic armed groups, saying the bilateral peace deal struck in 1989 is sufficient.

The Wa rebel group does intend to join a political dialogue that is expected to follow the signing of a nationwide ceasefire accord, an achievement that has proven elusive to date.