MYITKYINA, Kachin State — The chances of Burma’s strongest ethnic armed group signing an upcoming nationwide ceasefire accord are 50-50, according to a senior United Wa State Army (UWSA) official.
The Burma government is pushing to secure a nationwide agreement with all armed groups soon, and government-led negotiators met with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) last week to try to reach a deal with one of the only armed groups left in the country without a ceasefire agreement.
But Sai Sam, deputy commander-in-chief of the UWSA, who attended the talks in the Kachin capital, told The Irrawaddy there was only an even chance the Wa group would sign the nationwide agreement.
“We will see it [the accord] first. If it matches what we want, we will sign it. If it is not in line with what we want, we cannot sign it,” said Sai Sam.
“We will need to discuss what we disagree about. We want our region and people to benefit [from the peace process].”
The well-armed UWSA—which reached a new ceasefire in September 2011 to replace a 1989 agreement with Burma’s military regime—has demanded its own autonomous region in eastern Shan State, eastern Burma.
Its representatives, including Sai Sam, observed peace talks in Myitkyina from Oct. 8 to 10—where the KIO and the government did not reach a ceasefire, but agreed to work toward one.
The UWSA will also likely send its representatives to a meeting of ethnic leaders to be hosted by the KIO next month at its headquarters at Laiza, on the Burma-China border. Sai Sam said the UWSA leadership still had to decide whether to join the KIO-organized meeting.
“We will maintain our current position. We will move forward depending on what we will face in the future. So far, we see no threat. We don’t have any problem with government after we signed the ceasefire agreement,” said Sai Sam.
However, tension mounted between government troops and Wa rebels in July this year, with both sides saying they were waiting for orders to open fire. At that time, both the Burma Army and the UWSA deployed troops to possible confrontation areas such as Mongton, Mong Hsat and Pongpakhem in southern Shan State.
“We had a little problem in the past [in July], but we have already solved it,” Sai Sam said. “They pulled out their troops in some areas and we also pulled out our troops. We are in normal conditions now.”
The UWSA, which has been linked to the production and trafficking of heroin and methamphetamine in Shan State, has an estimated 25,000 well-equipped fighters. It is reportedly armed with modern weapons such as air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles.
Intelligence monitor Jane’s Information Group reported recently that China has sold five helicopters to ethnic the UWSA in late February and early March this year. The helicopters can be armed with TY-90 air-to-air missiles, said the report.
The UWSA’s Sai Sam, however, denied the report.
“We don’t have such helicopters,” he said. “But, we do have one helicopter and a small aircraft without engine in a public park for show. We only have its body. It can’t fly. We keep it there for visitors to see or photograph it.”