The Burma Army this week summoned representatives of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) to ask them not to provide arms or ammunition to Kokang rebels in eastern Burma, where conflict has raged between rebels and government troops since early February.
UWSA spokesperson Aung Myint told The Irrawaddy that seven representatives, including a Brigadier-General, were called to the meeting in Lashio, Shan State.
“Our delegates told us that [the Burma Army] asked them not to provide Kokang with arms,” he said. The delegates were invited by Lt-Gen Aung Than Htut, of the office of the commander-in-chief, he said.
On Feb. 22, state media reported that Kokang rebels, known as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) had rebuilt their strength to regain their area with the help of the UWSA” and other armed groups.
The report, which was based on a press conference led by Lt-Gen Mya Tun Oo, said that the MNDAA possessed a number of weapons “including Type 81-1assault rifle said to be manufactured by UWSA.”
The UWSA has denied allegations of providing arms to the MNDAA, claiming instead that the weapons in question were acquired long before the current conflict erupted.
“It’s not that they just got the weapons, they have had them since the time of Burmese Communist Party (BCP),” Aung Myint said, referring to an earlier era of the groups’ histories, when both were part of the China-backed CPB before it collapsed and splintered in 1989.
“There were secret deals in the past and those are the weapons [the MNDAA procured] in the past,” he added.
State media also reported on Feb. 22 that a brigade comprising four units of UWSA troops were part of National Solidarity Army involved in the conflict, a claim that was also addressed during Wednesday’s meeting. Aung Myint said that Aung Than Htut told the delegation the military recognized that the claim was untrue.
At least one other ethnic armed group said to be involved in the conflict—Mongla’s National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA)—has also denied the claim. NDAA spokesperson Kyi Maung told The Irrawaddy that it was “not involved,” adding that the Burma Army had been seen carrying out military exercises near the group’s territory in Mongla Special Region.
The NDAA, which has reached a bilateral ceasefire with the government and is involved in nationwide peace negotiations, occupies a small autonomous zone on the border with China.
Kyi Maung said that ten Burma Army “tanks” arrived near the boundary between Mongla and Kengtung townships on Thursday morning for field exercises, adding that the army explained “they were afraid the tanks would go rusty if left unattended for a long time.”
While the group enjoys stable relations with the government, Kyi Maung said that the current military exercises could “lead to misunderstanding” and “cause concern among local people.”
Additional reporting contributed by Kyaw Kha.