Wa Army to Celebrate 20th Anniversary-NEWS ANALYSIS

By WAI MOE Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The largest armed cease-fire group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), will hold what it calls its 20th Anniversary of “peace building” on April 17.

As an indication of what might be meant by “peace building,” since late 2008, the UWSA has begun using the term “government” in many of its communications. For instance, in the invitations sent out for its 20th anniversary, the Wa refer to themselves as the “Wa State Government, Burma’s Special Region 2.”
In the 2008 Constitution, endorsed by the Burmese junta, certain UWSA controlled areas were given the status of an autonomous region.
However, observers note that the UWSA has not yet declared its position in the 2010 election. When high-ranking Burmese officials visit the Wa region to discuss the election, Wa leaders reportedly call for a review of the constitution, according to sources.

Ahead of the 2010 election, like other ethnic ceasefire groups, the UWSA has been under pressure by the junta to join the election under the new constitution which calls for the disarmament of ceasefire groups following the election.

The UWSA has an estimated 20,000 troops based in northern and southern Shan State led by Bao You-Xiang, the former commander of the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) 683 Brigade. The Wa army is largest armed group among ethnic non-ceasefire and ceasefire groups.

The UWSA was a part of the CPB forces before it split from the Burmese Communists Party in April 1989. The UWSA and its political wing, the United Wa State Party, were officially formed in November 1989.

One month later, Kokang troops separated from the CPB on March 11 1989. Wa troops overthrew the CPB, which was dominated by Burmans, on April 17, 1989.
In 1989, the UWSA signed a cease-fire agreement with the Burmese military junta under then Secretary 1 Brig-Gen Khin Nyunt, who offered business concession deals and autonomy for the armed groups.
Analysts say ceasefire agreements with insurgent groups could be dangerous for the junta in the future because they are mostly based on the junta’s urgency to minimize internal security threats rather than involve long-term political negotiations and underlying solutions to the ethnic conflicts in Burma.

“Such groups pose a future threat to [Burma’s] national security and sovereignty, not least because they could still muster considerable fire-power to protect their ‘business interests,’” said the International Crisis Group in a report.

Geopolitics played a significant role in the defection of the Wa and Kokang from the CPB. The beginning of the end of the CPB armed struggle in Burma began in the late 1970s when the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping decided to establish government-to-government relations between the two countries and subsequently reduced Chinese assistance to the CPB, starting in 1978. In the early 1980s, Beijing told the CPB that it must survive or fall on its own initiative.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a former member of the CPB and a political analyst on the Sino-Burma border, said that there were two reasons behind the Wa and Kokang overthrow of the CPB: China’s policy shift and a leadership crisis within the CPB.

Following the Wa and Kokang ceasefires with the junta, more than a dozen other armed groups followed. From 1989 to 1995, 17 insurgent groups signed ceasefires with the ruling generals, according to official Burmese reports.

“Before the Wa and Kokang ceasefires, the Burmese army used five light infantry divisions to control the CPB troops in northeastern Burma,” Aung Kyaw Zaw recalled. “But after the ceasefire, four light infantry divisions were withdrawn from the area and sent to other parts of the country to battle with other armed groups.”

The Wa, which has bases mainly along the Sino-Burma border, still prefers to use the Chinese currency, the yuan, rather than the Burmese kyat, in their areas.

China and the UWSA are also connected through the arms trade. continue Page 2

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