UWSA Wants Autonomous State, Not Independence

By Nyein Nyein 5 June 2013

The United Wa State Army (UWSA) is pushing to upgrade its territory from an autonomous region to an officially recognized autonomous state in northeast Burma, but is not aspiring for complete independence from the national government, the ethnic armed group said.

“It’s not to split the Wa area from the mainland,” Sam Khun, a spokesman for the UWSA’s political wing, the United Wa State Party, told The Irrawaddy recently.

The UWSA, one of the strongest armed groups in Burma, was granted an autonomous region in a remote area that borders China in the 2008 Constitution, which was backed by the former junta. But its leaders say the region is not enough

“We guarantee we are not asking for an independent state,” a Wa representative told The Irrawaddy in the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina, while attending peace talks last week between ethnic Kachin rebels and the government in Burma’s northernmost state.

Sam Khun said the UWSA wanted autonomy to administer their own land and improve rights conditions for the 500,000 or so ethnic Wa people, who like many ethnic minorities in the country were oppressed by the former junta.

“We’re asking for state autonomy,” he said. “They gave us a Wa-owned administrative region, which we cannot accept because a region is smaller than a state.”

The Wa leader said the group faced problems over land distribution, with demands from the national government to hand over the southern Wa area.

“We cannot move from the area, which we occupied by fighting,” he said. “If they want it, fight us. We cannot leave for free.”

The UWSA, which is legendary for its involvement in the drug trade, agreed to a ceasefire with Burma’s military regime in the 1990s but did not disarm or give up controlled areas.

Sam Khum denied that opium plantations existed in Wa-controlled areas.

“Drug plantation hasn’t been happening there since 2005, but the drug trade is there because of traders,” he said.

He said Wa and Chinese anti-drug forces regularly swept through the region. If people were caught growing opium poppies, he said, they would be sentenced to seven years in prison.

He also denied recent allegations that the armed group received weapons from China.

“The weapons weren’t purchased recently, they were already there,” he said, adding that engineless fighter planes had been shown in public parks to attract tourists, including from Laos, China and inland Burma, but that the planes could not fly.

He said the Wa had a good relationship with China, their sole trade partner, but were independent from the giant East Asia neighbor.

“Wa works for its people and its development,” he said. “We stand on our own feet for the betterment of the Wa ethnic people. We do not have support from other foreign countries.”

The Wa autonomous region, which comprises six townships in Shan State, runs for about 500 kilometers along the China border. The Wa restrict access to their territory, but any Burmese citizen can enter freely as long as they do not carry weapons or ammunition. “They must hold a Burmese identification card to travel in the Wa region,” Sam Khun said.