Wa Leader Vows to Fight On

By WAI MOE,  Tuesday, March 22, 2011, Irrawaddy

Leaders of the United Wa State Army (UWSA)—Burma's largest ethnic armed group—said on Sunday that they will not give up “an inch” of their land and called on Wa people to fight against their common enemies. The statement comes amid strained tensions between the Burmese junta and minority groups near the Sino-Burmese border.

“We will not give up any bullet or any weapon which is protecting as many as 500,000 multi-ethnic people’s lives and properties in Wa territory. Holding arms is quite necessary for our security and development of our land,” said UWSA leader Bao Youxiang, according to sources in group headquarters Panghsang.

His address came on Sunday before more than 200 attendees at the closure of the five-day year-end conference in the Wa town near the Sino-Burmese border.

“The Wa regions have been being built for more than 20 years [since the 1989 ceasefire and split from communists] by Wa people through their good will and hard work. Therefore we will not give up an inch of our people’s land freely and easily,” he added.

At the meeting, Bao Youxiang repeatedly mentioned the togetherness of the Wa region saying “successful development projects” were due to the unity of people living in the area. He added that “unity could vanquish any enemy and any threat.”

Bao Youxiang—who is believed to be in his 60s—did not appear throughout the first four days of the event, but gave a rousing speech at the end of the conference. UWSA’s other senior members— including Zhao Zhongdang, who is expected to succeed Bao Youxiang—led the meeting. Discussions centered on handling fresh military threats on the UWSA from government troops, and alliances with other ethnic groups in the region.

However, despite Bao Youxiang’s defiant speech, the UWSA seems to be edging towards negotiations with the junta over the Border Guard Force (BGF).

After the Wa meeting, officials of the Military Affairs Security (MAS) reportedly came to Panghsang on Monday to pick up their Chinese counterparts for a regular border committee. While MAS officials were in the Wa headquarters, the UWSA leadership handed over a letter for Naypyidaw.

Although Wa officials declined to talk about details of the letter, observers said it was from Bao Youxiang to ex-Gen Thein Sein who is President-in-waiting for the new government in Naypyidaw.

Sources close to the UWSA said Thein Sein has a close personal relationship with the Wa leader ever since the pair crossed paths when the Burmese general was posted as the commander of Triangle Regional Military Command in eastern Shan State.

Shortly after Thein Sein was named president of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar in early February, Bao Youxiang was the only person among ethnic armed groups which dispute the BGF who sent a letter of congratulations to Naypyidaw.

While key UWSA members gathered in Panghsang for the meeting, junta troops launched a series of attacks on the Shan State Army-North (SSA-North) in an attempt to seize the group’s headquarters in Wimhing, Shan State. The SSA-North also rejected the BGF plan.

Ethnic minority sources claim junta troops used large caliber shells during operations against the SSA-North. “Our intelligence reports said that the government army sent more reinforcements—including at least eight trucks and extra 120 mm-artillery weapons—to northern Shan State,” said an SSA officer who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The SSA had an alliance with the UWSA and other ethnic armed groups—such as the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Mongla group of the National Democratic Alliance Army—following continuous pressure from Naypyidaw over the BGF issue and the fall of the Kokang army in 2009.

But UWSA leaders reportedly told their SSA-North counterparts recently that the agreement did not extend past last year. However, with non-military aid apparently still offered to the SSA-North, it is uncertain what the exact scope of the alliance remains.

Apart from the UWSA and its former communist comrades in the Mongla armed group, the SSA-North and the KIA formed a new alliance in 2010 alongside other armed ethnic groups based along the Thai-Burmese border. These include the Karen National Union, the Karenni People Progressive Party and the New Mon State Party.

Ethnic minority sources said the UWSA and the Mongla group’s decision to abstain from the new alliance is due to China’s opposition, even though Wa and Mongla leaders support the alliance informally.

“Chinese officials do not want the UWSA and Mongla group to have a close relationship with other ethnic groups based on the Thai-Burmese border. The Chinese think these groups are pro-West,” an ethnic minority source revealed on condition of anonymity.

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