NAYPYIDAW — Ethnic Wa leaders reiterated their demand for an autonomous Wa state over the weekend during a short meeting with President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw.
A delegation from the United Wa State Army (UWSA) met the president on the sidelines of an opening ceremony for the nationwide census, which will begin on March 30 but will start two weeks earlier in Wa territory of northern Shan State.
“We will ask the president for a Wa State,” UWSA spokesman Aung Myint told The Irrawaddy before meeting Thein Sein on Saturday. “We do not need to use armed force to ask for our state.”
The UWSA is the largest ethnic armed group in Burma, with 20,000 soldiers. The former junta granted the Wa the right to operate a self-administered zone in northeastern Shan State, near the Chinese border, but the UWSA has been increasingly pushing over the last year to upgrade its territory to the status of an officially recognized autonomous state.
“We will not secede from the mainland by asking to receive a Wa state,” the UWSA spokesman added.
The well-armed UWSA reached a new ceasefire deal with the government in September 2011, to replace a 1989 agreement with Burma’s military regime.
The ethnic armed group in the past has resisted government pressure to join a Border Guard Force (BGF), but UWSA leaders said their troops would participate in any future federal army. Ethnic groups have pushed the government to decentralize the command structure of the military, with battalions in certain regions comprised largely of soldiers from the dominant resident ethnic group.
The UWSA is less enthusiastic about calls for a federal union. While other ethnic groups want constitutional amendments to give more political power to individual states, the Wa have resisted the idea of federalism because they are an ethnic minority within Shan State, rather than having a state of their own.
The Burmese government is moving forward with plans for a nationwide ceasefire accord, although a conference to sign the deal has been delayed several times. The UWSA leaders said they would likely add their names to the accord in a bid to promote peace, but added that they would wait to find out the exact wording of the final agreement before committing.
“We need to be very careful with the contents of the agreement before we sign,” Aung Myint told The Irrawaddy.