Wa leaders have ordered their people to be on alert and dig bunkers for protection in case fighting breaks out, according to sources on the border. Troops of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) have been building strategic outposts in the mountains.

Wa Units in Southern Shan State Build Defenses
Shan sources said UWSA units in southern Shan State will reportedly ally with the ethnic rebel Shan State Army – South in fighting government troops if necessary.

Ten thousand UWSA toops led by Wei Hsueh-Kang, who is blacklisted in the US for drug trafficking, are stationed in southern Shan State. The UWSA has a total of about 25,000 soldiers.

The US Department of State has offered a US $2 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Wei Hsueh-Kang.

Border sources said Burmese government forces will likely launch an offensive against Wa units in southern Shan State, because the junta has been beefing up its troops in the area since the fall of Kokang’s capital, Laogai, on August 24.

The Burmese military junta reportedly wrote to Wa leaders demanding that they surrender the Kokang leader, Peng Jiasheng, who is believed to have taken shelter in a UWSA-controlled area. Source said the UWSA did not respond to the junta’s request.

Troops from the Burmese regime’s light infantry divisions (LID), including LID 99, 55, 33 and 22, have been moving into Shan State since Aug 24, according to border and Burmese military sources. About 10 battalions under Military Operation Command 16, based in Theindi in northern Shan State, have also been deployed south of Laogai, military sources said.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy, one resident who asked for anonymity said he witnessed three 120mm mortar launchers and 10 armored cars going to southern Shan State, where UWSA units are based. Government troops have blocked the route connecting UWSA units in northern Shan State with those based in southern Shan State, and junta forces have deployed along the road, sources said.

Some observers said the junta’s patience with ceasefire groups rejecting its order to transform their armed militias into Burmese-controlled border guard forces is wearing thin. They said the junta may have no option but to launch offensives against the ceasefire militias to get them to comply.

Bertil Lintner, a Swedish journalist who has written several books on Burma, said the Wa will be the main target of the present offensive.

It is estimated that more than 120,000 ethnic Wa live in southern Shan State near the border with Thailand, which has become a lucrative business area. The area has an improved infrastructure because of development projects and trade.

Thousands of Wa civilians may flee into Thailand if fighting breaks out in the region, sources said.

As the Burmese military government gears up for major conflict with ethnic groups along the Thai-Burmese border ahead of elections scheduled for 2010, more laborers and refugees will come to Thailand, the Bangkok-based English newspaper, Bangkok Post, said in its editorial on Wednesday.

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