RANGOON — The United Wa State Army (UWSA), Burma’s largest armed group, and ethnic Kokang rebels will not participate in this week’s meeting in Laiza, where Burma’s rebel groups are convening to discuss a government proposal to hold a nationwide ceasefire conference.
UWSA spokesman Aung Myint said Wa leaders would not be present at three-day conference, which is due to start on Wednesday in Laiza, a Kachin Independence Army (KIA) stronghold in Kachin State located on the Burma-China border.
“We are too busy at the moment. This is why we could not attend the meeting. We will explain later why we did not attend the meeting,” Aung Myint told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.
UWSA central committee member Bow Thein said Wa representatives were absent because the party’s chairman Bao Youxiang was too “sick” to coordinate representatives during the Laiza conference.
At the meeting, 18 armed ethnic groups will discuss Naypyidaw’s proposal to hold a nationwide ceasefire conference next month. President Thein Sein’s reformist government has signed ceasefire agreements with 14 groups since assuming office in 2011, in a bid to end Burma’s decades-old conflicts.
Following the Laiza meeting, representatives of the various ethnic groups will reportedly travel to the Kachin State capital Myitkyina, where they will hold discussions with the government chief peace negotiator Aung Min.
The KIA and the Taaung National Liberation Army have not yet signed any ceasefires, however, and skirmishes with government troops continue. Since last week, there have been reports of renewed Burma Army operations and clashes with KIA rebels in southern Kachin State’s Mansi Township, where thousands of villagers have been displaced.
Among the ethnic rebels groups there is doubt about the government’s willingness to consider their demands for greater political autonomy through the creation of a federal union of Burma.
The UWSA, who are considered Burma’s most powerful group with about 30,000 soldiers, have a long-standing ceasefire with Naypyidaw and control parts of northern and eastern Shan State, areas that remain off limits for the Burma Army. The Wa have been linked to the production of illicit drugs that are smuggled to Thailand, China and the wider region.
The Wa want the areas under their control to be carved out of Shan State and recognized as an official autonomous state within Burma.
Aung Kyaw Zaw, a former member of the Communist Party of Burma, the predecessor of the UWSA, said Wa leaders declined an invitation to the Laiza conference as they believed that the national ceasefire conference would not further their demands for an autonomous Wa State.
“According to my understanding, the Wa have mentioned already that they will not agree to sign a nationwide ceasefire. This is why they did not attend the meeting in Laiza,” Aung Kyaw Zaw said in a phone call from Kunming, southwestern China.
He said an ethnic Kokang group, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), which are in an alliance with the UWSA, had also declined to attend the Laiza conference. The small armed group, which was crushed during a 2009 Burma Army offensive, occupies territory located on Burma’s borders with China and Laos.