Wa to Meet Govt Peace Team over ‘Misunderstandings’ in Tense Shan State

By Nyein Nyein 5 July 2013

Ethnic Wa leaders and the government’s peace negotiators are likely to meet next week in Kengtung Township, Shan State, amid escalating tensions between the two sides.

The meeting, originally planned for today, was postponed to await the response from representatives of the Wa’s Panghsang headquarters, according to Shan State Chief Minister Sao Aung Myat.

Members of the Union Peacemaking Working Committee, led by its vice chairman Thein Zaw, are expected to attend next week’s meeting along with Sao Aung Myat, Shan State’s commander-in-chief and members of Parliament.

“As soon as they respond, we could meet within the next week,” Sao Aung Myat told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

“The agenda is to talk about the difficulties and any misunderstandings [between the two sides],” he said. “The priority is to manage the local affairs legally, the difficulties they now face.”

Sam Khun, a United Wa State Party (UWSP) spokesman, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that topping the agenda would be developments in the southern Wa region.

“The meeting will be held in Kengtung within a couple of days,” Sam Khun said, but added that representatives from the UWSP’s Panghsang headquarters had not yet been selected. High-level UWSP leaders and commanders from its militant wing, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), are expected to join the meeting.

Sam Khun did not provide comment on the situation in Tachileik, a town on the border with Thailand where relations between government troops and the UWSA, Burma’s largest ethnic armed group, are increasingly strained.

Tensions reportedly escalated after government troops surrounded Wa outposts in Mongton Township. The liaison office in Tachileik, one of four that the Wa have opened in the state, has reportedly been shuttered.

“The root of the tension is the dispute over land in the permitted area [where the Wa people are allowed to do business] in Wa southern region,” Sao Aung Myat said.

The ethnic Wa have been granted the right to do business within a designated but occasionally disputed area since the UWSP signed a ceasefire agreement with the military regime in 1989. The exact details of the business arrangement have been muddled by successive peace accords signed by different governments since the 1989 agreement.

The UWSP has been granted autonomy to administer six townships that fall within the Wa self-administered region, as stipulated in the 2008 Constitution.

But a recent push for greater autonomy and recognition of a “Wa State” has complicated relations between the UWSP and the Union government.

“The situation is stable,” Sao Aung Myat said. “It [reports of elevated tensions] would be only speculation spread around at the ground level.”

Additional reporting by Than Htike Oo.