The Irrawaddy

Travel Curbs Imposed on Ethnic Wa in Shan State

Government authorities are restricting ethnic Wa people who live in northern Shan State from traveling to Kyaingtong and other major towns in eastern parts of the state, according to local sources.

There are two main roads for ethnic Wa traveling to Kyaingtong in eastern Shan State and Tachilek on the Thai-Burmese border. But since early this month, authorities have been checking the ID cards of travellers and barring further travel along the routes if the holder is ethnic Wa, according to complaints lodged with the United Wa State Army.

“They still cannot travel. We haven’t heard anything about them being allowed to travel,” said Nyi Rang, a UWSA spokesperson based in Lashio in northern Shan State.

There are about 900,000 ethnic Wa living in Special Region 2 in northern Shan State. In the past, they have freely traveled to Kyaingtong and Tackhilek for medical treatment or to trade goods, using ID cards issued by Myanmar immigration.

The authorities, including the police, army, and immigration, have not offered any detailed explanation as to why they have restricted Wa people from traveling, including those in need of urgent medical treatment.

“Immigration issued the ID cards for our Wa people to travel. But they are useless now,” said Nyi Rang.

“We are starting to think they view our Wa people as foreigners,” he added.

The UWSA is the largest ethnic armed force in Myanmar with over 40,000 men under arms in the Wa region, although it currently has a ceasefire agreement with the Myanmar Army, or Tatmadaw.

The government and military have urged the UWSA to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), but the group has asked for the NCA to be amended to bring it in line with an agreement it signed with members of the Northern Alliance. The UWSA also wants to bring all Northern Alliance members into the peace process.

Meetings to discuss the peace process have been held several times between the Myanmar military and UWSA leaders in Panghsang the capital of Wa State, and also in China. However, no agreement could be reached.

The Irrawaddy asked U Aung Soe from the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre (NRPC) why Wa people were being restricted from traveling and he said the order had come from the Tatmadaw. “They allowed local people to travel before, but now they are blocking them.”

“Our country is working to have peace, but this action will damage peace,” said Nyi Rang. “It is totally different from their slogans about seeking peace. Instead, their actions will destroy peace.”

The UWSA’s position is that political conflict can be solved only by political dialogue, he said.

UWSA leaders have asked the authorities why Wa people were being preventing from traveling, but the officials have simply said the order came from the top, while providing no further explanation.

“It is very clear to see they are passing the ball from one to another, and they will not give us the full reason. They put restrictions on our people, and they discriminate against them. Their actions could have many bad consequences in the future,” Nyi Rang said.