The United Wa State Army (UWSA) is reportedly planning to hold a drug bonfire on UN World Anti-drugs Day, June 26, at its headquarters Panghsang, 100 km north of Shan State East capital Kengtung, in order to reconfirm its pledge to the world given in 2005, according to local sources close to the Wa leadership.
The activities will be taking place on the same day in 3 other principle towns Mongmai, Wiangkao and Mongpawk.Kengtung and Lashio commanders are expected to be invited to observe the event including Chinese officials and media, according to a Wa officer from the anti-drug force.
In order to hold this event, the Wa authorities have been seizing drugs and have also been arresting people suspected as drug addicts since early June. Up to this day, there has been up to 200 people arrested, said a local resident in Panghsang. “All suspects were thoroughly scrutinized before taken into custody.”
In 2005, the Wa declared its territory as drug free. The group asked for the international community to provide food and promote education for the Wa people and encourage investments, open up markets and reduce taxes on Wa products.
But the group has to struggle alone to help its people as there were only some organizations, like China and World Food Program (WFP) come to provide aid, mostly rice, according to a senior officer.
“The ruling Burmese military junta did not help much.”
Nevertheless, China, at the request of Naypyitaw, stopped providing food to the group after 2007. Likewise, the NGO programs in the areas have also been decreasing compared to the previous period as their members were unable to travel in the areas freely as before since Naypyitaw’s Border Guard Force (BGF) program was proposed in April 2009. The UWSA has so far been against the program.
“Because members are mostly Burmans even though the organizations are formed by foreigners,” he said.
In addition, as the ceremony draws near, security in the areas has also been tightened.
“They [Wa authorities] have been taking it serious this time. They go from house to house and check even at night time,” said another villager.
The UWSA was named by the United States as a terrorist organization with connections to drug trafficking. Its deputy head of finance and Commander of the Thai-Burma border-based 171st Military Region, Wei Xuegang, is wanted both in Thailand and the US on drug charges.