YANGON — The United Wa State Army (UWSA), Myanmar’s largest ethnic armed group, says its fighters stopped a group of Myanmar army soldiers from continuing work on a new road through contested territory on Monday in southern Shan State.
The Myanmar army, or Tatmadaw, arrived with a bulldozer to clear a path for the road through the forest near Mong Toom village but were blocked by UWSA fighters, a spokesman for the armed group told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.
“Two battalions [one each from the UWSA and Tatmadaw] were close to each other. Our troops blocked their work as it approached our battalion,” said Nyi Rang, a spokesman for the UWSA in Lashio, in northern Shan State.
He said tensions rose as the two sides faced off but added that the Tatmadaw soldiers eventually left without any fighting.
“This was not the first time. They have done like this in the past, but we solved it,” he said.
Nyi Rang said a 1989 ceasefire agreement between the Tatmadaw and UWSA stipulates that each side inform the other in advance of development projects in contested areas, though similar tensions have flared over roadwork in the past. The UWSA accuses the Tatmadaw of building the roads in preparation for future offensives.
“In my opinion they should inform our troops well before they go to build a road. But they did not inform us. We have agreed to inform each other,” the spokesman said.
Video of the standoff spread through social media on Tuesday.
“You should say who is your senior officer who gave this order to stop us. You should not say all of your leaders block this road construction,” a Tatmadaw officer tells a UWSA fighter.
“I can’t do anything. This was the order from the top officers,” the UWSA fighter replies.
After a few more moments of conversation, a Tatmadaw soldier grabs a UWSA fighter standing in front of the bulldozer and pushes him aside. A Tatmadaw officer tells the UWSA fighters to leave the site, but they refuse, and the officer tells his soldiers to stop pushing the UWSA fighters away.
“You can’t act like this because it will destroy our relationship,” the Tatmadaw officer then says. “Both of us are organizations. You guys are rude.”
The UWSA — the largest armed group in the country with some 40,000 fighters — chairs the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee, which is in off-and-on peace talks with the government and military. The committee’s seven members have yet to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.
Nyi Rang said the Tatmadaw was also continuing to block ethnic Wa civilians from traveling freely in northern Shan State since last month. A pair of Wa political parties has asked the government to have the travel restrictions lifted.
Spokesmen for the Tatmadaw could not be reached for comment.