Wa Army Says It’s Willing to Work With Myanmar Govt to Hold Voting in Its Territory

By Nan Lwin 3 March 2020

YANGON—The United Wa State Army (UWSA), Myanmar’s largest ethnic armed organization, said it would collaborate with the government to organize voting in its self-administered zone later this year during the country’s general election. Most of the area was unable to take part in previous elections due to security concerns.

The military-drafted 2008 Constitution grants the Wa region self-administered status. Known as Special Region 2, it comprises six townships in northern and eastern Shan state; Hopang, Mong Mau, Pang Wai, Nah Parn, Met Man and Panghsang (Pangkham).

In the general elections in 2010 and 2015, voting could not be held in four townships of the Wa self-administered area: Panghsang, Mong Mau, Pang Wai and Nah Parn. At that time, the Union Election Commission (UEC) announced it was not in a position to hold free and fair elections in the areas.

During a meeting in late February in Panghsang, the capital of Wa region, with U Hla Thein, the chairman of the UEC, and other government representatives, Xiao Mingliang, the vice president of the UWSA and its political wing the United Wa State Party (UWSP), promised to join hands with the election commission on implementing the procedures necessary for holding the 2020 general election in the group’s territory.

U Hla Thein explained the electoral process in detail to the UWSA leaders.

The meeting was also attended by UWSA deputy commander-in-chief Zhao Zhongdang, Vice Secretary General Bao You Yi, Vice President Zhao Guo-ann and other members of the group’s Central Committee.

UWSA liaison officer U Nyi Rang confirmed the discussions to The Irrawaddy, saying, “We will need to wait for the details of the process for collaborating with the government to hold the election.”

“We could not hold the elections in the past because there were no pre-negotiations and preparations [between the UWSA and the government],” he said.

The liaison officer added, “When it comes to basic preparations, all the voters in our area would need household registration certificates and national identification cards.”

According to the UWSA-owned Wa State TV, UWSP Vice President Xiao discussed Wa region’s future plans, comprising eight key points, with the UEC representatives. U Nyi Rang declined to reveal the details, however.

During the meeting, Xiao said he expected Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to visit Wa region during her administration.

“We invite her to observe and offer her guidance to us,” U Nyi Rang said. “The leader of Myanmar is our leader as well.”

The Irrawaddy has learned that the invitation was made by Wei Hsueh-kang, reportedly the UWSA’s southern military commander, who is on the US State Department’s narcoticswanted list. The department is offering a US$2-million (2.85-billion-kyat) reward for information leading to his arrest and/or conviction.

 Wei met with Myanmar peace officials in December in Yunnan province. Speaking through an interpreter, Wei told Myanmar officials that he had thoroughly studied the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) process. To the surprise of the delegates, he extended an invitation to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to visit the Wa capital. Speaking in Chinese, Wei said that if she agreed to visit, he could promise that all obstacles to acheiving a peace deal would be resolved. He also said he closely followed Myanmar’s daily news, including political and economic developments.

Wei claimed to hold the key to the peace process in Phangsang, and spoke of his willingness to use his business empire in Wa region to boost Myanmar’s sluggish economy. He even mentioned that when Myanmar faced a currency crisis in August 2018, he would have been prepared to offer assistance if asked.

The UWSA celebrated its 30th anniversary in April last year, and invited Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to attend the event. The State Counselor did not attend the ceremony, but sent a message to the event.

While it already operates independently with no interference from central Myanmar authorities, the UWSA has long demanded official status as an autonomous ethnic state.

A political analyst familiar with ethnic affairs on the China-Burma border, U Maung Maung Soe, told The Irrawaddy, “The Wa’s policy is they want to build good relations with government, while at the same time they want to keep their autonomous status.”

“The move [to cooperate on the election] is possibly aimed at legitimizing their demand to establish Wa as an autonomous ethnic state,” U Maung Maung Soe said.

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

It also founded the UWSP and the Wa State People’s Government. Since then the UWSA 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 five divisions deployed along the Thai-Myanmar border and three divisions on

the China-Myanmar border.

Since the ceasefire deal in 1989, there have been no clashes between the UWSA and the Myanmar military.

The UWSA has not yet signed the government’s NCA. The group 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, however it and other members of the FPNCC want the government to amend some parts of the agreement first.

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