RANGOON — A high-ranking member of the powerful United Wa State Army (UWSA) said this week the group was concerned over ongoing conflict in northern Shan State and would seek to enlist the support of Beijing to help mediate a halt to hostilities.
“We are very worried about it,” said Shao Min Liang, deputy chairman of the UWSA, referring to ongoing conflict pitting government troops against Shan, Kokang and Ta’ang (Palaung) armed groups in areas of Shan State close to Wa-controlled territory.
“We will fight back to protect ourselves, but we will not fight first,” he said.
Shao Min Liang is a key player in the UWSA, Burma’s most powerful ethnic armed group with a well-equipped fighting force estimated at 20,000 soldiers. He told this week’s three-day summit of ethnic groups held in Panghsang in the Wa Special Region that ethnic rebels should seek the help of China in bringing an end to ongoing fighting.
“A lot of refugees fled to China when there was fighting in Kachin State. There were also a lot of refugees that fled to China when fighting [broke out] in Kokang,” the deputy chairman told ethnic representatives. “This hurt business in China. For us, we believe that China will help if we ask them to [take part in] peace negotiations with the Burmese government.”
On several different fronts in Kachin and northern Shan State, fighting has been reported in recent months between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N), the Arakan Army (AA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). None of the groups were signatories to a so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement signed between Naypyidaw and eight non-state armed groups on Oct. 15.
The leaders of 11 ethnic armed groups that did not sign the accord attended the Panghsang summit this week, with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang), another non-signatory, also receiving an invite but unable to join.
At the summit, ethnic leaders floated the idea of forming a new alliance of non-signatory ethnic armed groups that would replace the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) and include the UWSA and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA)—neither of which were UNFC members.
No formal agreement on the proposed new alliance was reached, but ethnic leaders planned to continue deliberations.
“After three days, there were good results,” said Gen Sao Say Htin of the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) which has been locked in ongoing fighting with government troops since Oct. 6.
“We will form an armed wing and a political wing in our future [alliance], but we will talk in more detail in a future meeting.”
Shao Min Liang also suggested a new ethnic peace negotiation team may be established to lead talks with the government in 2016, which is likely set for a makeover after this Sunday’s general election.
A statement issued at the conclusion of the Panghsang dialogue on Tuesday called on the government to conduct free, fair and transparent elections and for any new administration to uphold the rights of ethnic nationalities, resolve conflict and pursue national reconciliation.
The statement also referenced seeking the assistance of China to help guide peace negotiations with the government and bring stability to northern Burma.