CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Ma Ma, a leader of the Wa National Organization (WNO), the political wing of an ethnic Wa armed group, was arrested by Thai narcotics police in Chiang Mai, Thailand this week.
Thai police officials from the Office of Narcotics Control Board held a press conference at their Chiang Mai branch office on Thursday, saying they arrested the Wa leader with 10 kilograms of pure methamphetamine, 7.5 kilograms of raw opium and 26,400 methamphetamine pills.
The police also seized 6.8 million baht (Nearly US$200,000) in cash during the arrest, which took place on Tuesday this week in Tambon Pa Daet in Chiang Mai. Thai police identified the Wa leader as Ma Ma.
The Wa leader, who is known in Burmese media as Tat Ma Har, serves as vice-chairman of the WNO, a member organization of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of nine ethnic armed groups who are engaging in peace talks with the Burmese government, but have not signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).
The NCA is a peace pact that was signed last year under the former government of President Thein Sein and includes eight ethnic armed groups as signatories.
The arrest resulted from an insider report that Ma Ma and his cohorts were part of a major drug trafficking ring. The drugs were smuggled from Burma to Thailand for distribution to customers, according to a Thai media outlet, Manager Online.
The WNO has long been involved in the illicit drug trade, and one of its past leaders, Mahasang, was also arrested in Chiang Mai and died in prison.
The WNO’s military wing, the Wa National Army (WNA), operates in northern Shan State and near the Thai-Burma border.
When contacted by The Irrawaddy on Friday, two UNFC leaders declined to give comments.
Observers, however, said the UNFC may have no connection with the drug trade run by members of the WNO. The UNFC’s relationship with the WNO is simply for political purposes, said observers, who chose to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue.
In early June, the UNFC leaders met with a Burmese government peace delegation, led by Dr. Tin Myo Win, in Chiang Mai where they were invited to participate in both a political framework development meeting and the Union peace conference—branded by the new government as the “21st Century Panglong Conference”—which is scheduled to take place in late July.
The first Panglong Conference, convened by Gen Aung San in 1947, resulted in an agreement between the leaders of some of Burma’s major ethnic groups, guaranteeing autonomy for “frontier areas” in exchange for joining the soon-to-be independent Union of Burma.
The UNFC leaders have expressed willingness to participate in the “21st Century Panglong Conference” but have not made a final decision