The Wa may be the strongest, both in manpower and money power. But it is also true that, since 2009, when the tension that grew out of its refusal to adopt Naypyitaw’s “one country, one military” program, it has steadfastly dodged every chance to accept the Burma Army’s call for a showdown.
What could be plainer than its lukewarm response to the call to come to the rescue of Kokang, one of its sworn allies, when it was attacked by the Burma Army in August 2009. Internally divided and choosing to fight an ill-advised positional warfare, the 2,200 square kilometer former princely state fell after 3-days. Its southern neighbor Wa bore the loss of its northern flank quietly and just as quietly beefed up its defenses along the northern boundary.
Then, in March this year, came the offensive against the Shan State Army (SSA) North that protected its western flank along the Salween. The group, shorn of its internal factionalism and choosing to fight a guerrilla war, fought well and after one and a half months still far from beaten. However, again, Panghsang, the Wa headquarters, failed to come up with the expected assistance, leaving the 3,000 strong group to fight alone. Quietly assisted by the non-ceasefire SSA ‘South’, it has survived but lost all the key Salween crossings to the Burma Army.
Encouraged and impatient, Naypyitaw has now called the Wa to withdraw all of its forces in Mongla, the Wa’s remaining southern flank and outlet to the Mekong and the rest of the world, if its eastern border with China is not counted.
It seems abundantly clear, if the Wa continues to practise its hands off policy, it will end up with hostile territories on all sides except perhaps China.
Nobody knows this better than Panghsang that has dispatched more than 1,000 of its fighters from the Mongpawk-based 468th Brigade after 2009 to Mongla.
The joint Wa-Mongla forces have been fortifying Mawn Pang Nao, the 8542ft mountain, and Mong Fan near the Mekong, without which Mongla and Hsop Lwe, the mouth of the river Lwe that flows into the Mekong, would be at the Burma Army’s mercy.
On 28 April, Naypyitaw ordered both Panghsang and Mongla to pull out from their outlying bases, which were interpreted as Mawn Pang Nao and Mong Fan.
Interviewed by the BBC, a Wa officer replied that Panghsang had already complied with Naypyitaw’s order. However, other sources confirmed there was no such move. One source close to the Wa military even said the United Wa State Army (UWSA) had sent more reinforcement to the two key bases. Earlier, one Wa officer told SHAN, “Areas under Mongla are more important to the Wa (survival) than to Mongla.”
So far, Mongla has withdrawn from two bases south of Mong Fan: Wan Kho and Pong Hiet.
But as things are, “we’ll be as good as hanging ourselves, if we let go Mawn Pang Nao and Mong Fan,” according an officer from the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), the official name for the Mongla group led by Sai Leun. It is apparent the Wa feel the same and this time will not give up the two strongholds without a fight.
The only way out appears to be what Panghsang told Naypyitaw earlier, when it was proposed that the two sides meet again for talks: If it is to talk about military matters, there is nothing more for us to say other than what we have said all along. But if it is for political matters, such as the Wa’s right of autonomy, you are cordially welcome.