By S. Chandrasekharan
The UWSA is perhaps the biggest Non State Ethnic Insurgent Unit in Myanmar with over 30,000 soldiers and another 10,000 Auxiliary members.
The UWSA was formed after the collapse of Communist Party of Burma in the year 1989 and celebrated “30 years of Cease fire” with the Myanmar government. The festivities lasted for three days starting from the 17th of April.
Invitees to the show included the Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing and the State Counsellor Suu Kyi who both declined to attend. The latter however sent a message asking the Wa group to join the National Cease-fire Agreement (NCA) which is just a “threshold to pass on the way to a democratic Federal Union that grants equality and self-determination for all ethnic people.”
Suu Kyi’s appeal appeared to be sincere but why should Wa relent when it is already enjoying a de facto confederal status? That too with the full backing of China that has trained and supplied UWSA in a region where Chinese is the main spoken language and the currency used is Yuan? (The bill board at the venue showed all the three languages- local dialect written in English script, Burmese and Chinese!
Invitations had also been sent to former President Gen. Thein Sein, Retired Senior Army General Than Shwe. Of particular interest is the invitation to former General (evil) Khin Nyunt. Khin Nyunt who incidentally is of Chinese origin was the one who brokered the cease fire agreement with the Wa Group and had strongly recommended that the Wa region should be made a State. Wa has still remained as a special administrative region since 2008. Khin Nyunt did not attend the function but sent a congratulatory message.
The was a parade of over 7600 troops of UWSA (Unite Wa State Army) of various wings and AFP reported that it had armoured cars and a special “sniper unit” also. It was expected that UWSA would show case its armoury of new weapons manufactured by them and also supplied by China that included Light and Heavy Machine Guns, RPGs, Mortars, Recoilless Rifles, FN-6 Portable Air Defence Systems, anti-tank missiles, artillery -105 mm guns and surface to surface Missiles. There are reports that the Wa group has helicopters too to transport troops. This was not so.
Two reasons were given as to why the UWSA did not showcase its weapons. First- it was said to be the embarrassment that would be caused to the Myanmar Military Representatives who attend the function and two- the Myanmar Army would also come to know the type of weapons the Wa group is holding.
While we can dismiss the second reasoning outright as I am sure the Myanmar intelligence which should not be under rated would be fully aware of the arsenal held by the Wa group. The only reason could be that it would have embarrassed China whose representatives including Special Envoy, Sun Guoxiang would be present in the parade and most likely China would have advised against it. There was a talk that that the top Chinese functionary Song Tao, Head of the International Liaison Department of Central Committee of the CPC will be present- but it is not clear whether he was there for the function.
The Wa Chief, Bao Youxiang reviewed the troops (in Chinese style) in an open jeep but he made sure to declare in his speech that Wa is an inalienable part of Union of Myanmar and solemnly promised not to split or seek independence. But other points raised by him who is also the Chief of the party, the executive and head of the military were belligerent enough for the Myanmar Army and the Government to take notice of. This included
- A demand for autonomy for his region and that ethnic Wa would fight for their lives to make it happen.
- The Wa people are the masters of their lives ( as if the Myanmar govt has nothing to do with it)
- Until their demands are met, they would carry on with the banner of peace and democracy on one hand and armed for self defence on the other to maintain the status quo. ( For self defence one does not need artillery, missiles etc etc!)
To the credit of Wa there has been not a single incident of violation of cease fire since the signing of the agreement despite being heavily armed and with an overwhelming presence in the entire region. That shows the control the Chinese have that despite having provided with the most sophisticated weapons China has not allowed them to cross the red line. This has resulted in an economic boom in the Wa region and it is said that their headquarters at Pangshang matches the development seen on the other side in China! Add to this boom is the trade in drugs which the Wa is known to be indulging in though denied officially. Wa supplies weapons to other ethnic armed units in Myanmar and thus have some leverage over them. It has also made bold to create a separate group known as FPNCC (Federal Public and Negotiation and Consultative Committee seeking a different narrative to the Government sponsored National Cease fire agreement.
The question that arises is- If the Wa region -a barren one, can cash in on an uninterrupted peace and stability to showcase its economic development, should this not be a model for other ethnic insurgent outfits to emulate it and seek peace and stability for economic development? Not that the ethnic armed organisations are unwilling but it is the Myanmar Army which for its own selfish reasons continue with the conflict as is seen in the Kachin area and now in the Arakan area.
In all, the celebrations of the UWSA for three days and the presence of a large number of Chinese officials indicate that it was not a display of the power of UWSA but that of China and the enormous influence and power China holds in Myanmar.
Incidentally, the Arakan Army Chief Tun Myat Naing was present in the celebrations as an invitee and it is said that one of the Chinese officials told him not to start a new offensive to which he called upon China to negotiate for both sides! In the absence of any initiative from India, one should not be surprised if China takes the lead in the western side of Myanmar too.