By WAI MOE
The leader of Burma’s largest armed ethnic group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), vowed to strengthen Wa State as thousands of Wa people celebrated the 20th Anniversary of the coup against the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) on Friday at Panghsang in northeastern Burma.
Bao You-Xiang, a UWSA commander and the chairman of its political wing, the United Wa State Party (UWSP), said in his speech before thousands of Wa supporters that he would build a more solid and united Wa State, according to sources on the Sino-Burmese border.
However, Bao said that while the UWSA would create a more solid and united Wa State, they would negotiate peacefully on any matters of disagreement with the Burmese junta.
The anniversary event was held at the UWSA headquarters in Panghsang, a Sino-Burmese border town in northeastern Burma. Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese analyst who was present for the celebrations, estimated that nearly 20,000 people attended the ceremony.
April 17, 1989, is celebrated by the UWSA as the date when Wa soldiers revolted against the CPB who had been masters of the Wa troops within the Communist party since the late 1960s.
On Friday, the UWSA marked the anniversary of the revolt as 20 years of “peace building.”
Aung Kyaw Zaw said that Bao You-Xiang also talked about community development in the Wa region (also known as Special Region 2).
The Wa leader also spoke of his appreciation of the Wa’s allies that had helped in the development of Wa State during the past 20 years, including Chinese officials. He also thanked the United Nations for development projects in the Wa area.
About 2,400 Wa State soldiers participated in a military parade as part of the ceremony, the Burmese analyst said.
Col Khine Zaw, along with Lt-Col Min Hein and Lt-Col Thein Tun Than, attended the Wa ceremony as representatives of the Burmese junta.
However, observers said that the attendance of relatively low-ranking Burmese officers at the event reflected the strained relations between the UWSA and the junta. At previous Wa ceremonies, high-ranking Burmese generals represented the regime, particularly before Gen Khin Nyunt was ousted from power in 2004.
In recent months, tension between the Burmese army and the UWSA has increased as the junta pushes the Wa to disarm its troops and to withdrew from strategic positions in southern Shan State, along the Thai-Burmese border.
In late 2008, there were reports of clashes between Burmese and Wa troops near a Wa town, Mong Hsat, in southern Shan State.
The UWSA has begun using the term “government” to refer to itself since 2008. In the invitations sent out for its 20th anniversary celebrations, the Wa leaders referred to themselves as the “Wa State Government of Burma’s Special Region 2.”
Hundreds of delegates from other ceasefire groups— such as the Kokang group of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), the Kachin Independent Organization and the Shan State Army (North)— attended the ceremony in Panghsang on Friday.
Sources said that former CPB members who were comrades of the Wa leaders during the 1970s- 80s also attended the celebrations, as well as authorities from China’s Yunnan Province.
The UWSA signed a ceasefire agreement with the ruling military junta after the collapse of the CPB in 1989. Observers say the UWSA has an estimated 20,000-strong army.
The US State Department has named the UWSA as “the dominant heroin trafficking group in Southeast Asia, and possibly worldwide” and has offered a US $2 million reward for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Wei Hsueh-Kang, a UWSA leader who reportedly attended the celebration in Panghsang on Friday.