United Wa State Army
|United Wa State Army|
佤邦联合军Participant in the Internal conflict in Myanmar
ဝပြည် သွေးစည်းညီညွတ်ရေး တပ်မတော်
Flag of the United Wa State Army
|Active||17 April 1989– present|
|Area of operations||
Wa Self-Administered Division|
|Part of||United Wa State Party|
|Originated as||Communist Party of Burma|
|Battles and wars||Internal conflict in Myanmar|
The United Wa State Army (Chinese: 佤邦联合军; pinyin: Wǎbāng Liánhéjūn; Burmese: ဝပြည် သွေးစည်းညီညွတ်ရေး တပ်မတော်, IPA: [wa̰ pjì θwésí ɲìɲʊʔjé taʔmədɔ̀]; abbreviated UWSA), also abbreviated as the UWS Army, is the military wing of the United Wa State Party (UWSP), the de facto ruling party of Wa State (officially known as the Wa Self-Administered Division). It is an ethnic minority army of an estimated 20,000–25,000 Wa soldiers, led by Bao Youxiang (鲍有祥). The UWSA was formed after the collapse of the armed wing of the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) in 1989.
The UWSA announced its territory as the "Wa State Government Special Administrative Region" on 1 January 2009. The de facto President is Bao Youxiang, and the Vice President is Xiao Minliang. Although the Government of Myanmar does not officially recognise the sovereignty of Wa State, the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) has frequently allied with the UWSA to fight against Shan nationalist militia groups, such as the Shan State Army - South.
Despite being de facto independent from Myanmar, the Wa State officially recognizes Myanmar's sovereignty over all of its territory. In 1989 the two parties signed a ceasefire agreement, and in 2013 signed a peace deal.
On 17 April 1989, ethnic Wa soldiers established the United Wa State Army and ended the long-running Communist insurgency in Burma. On 9 May 1989, the Burmese government signed a cease-fire agreement with UWSA, formally ending the conflict.
The United Wa State Army was founded and led by Chao Ngi Lai (1939-2009) and later Bao Youxiang (鲍有祥). It is an organisation strongly supported by China, which gives it more support than to the Myanmar government. The group's Deputy Commander-in-Chief is Zhao Zhongdang. Aung Myint is the spokesperson. Co-founder was Xuexian Ai. He formed the Wa National Council (WNC) with Hsang Maha Ngeun Wiang, his brother-in-law, in 1984. His group was the nucleus of UWSA 171 Military Region near the Thai border. He died at the age of 78 in Mandalay on 29 October 2011. Ta Maha Hsang sponsored the famous Panglong Agreement" song composed by Sai Kham Leik and song by Sai Hsai Mao. Wa Supreme Court Chief is Li Zhao Guo. Deputy Chief of External Relationship Department is Sun Khun.
Until 1996 the United Wa State Army was involved in a conflict against the Shan Mong Tai Army led by drug kingpin Khun Sa which suited the objectives of the Tatmadaw in the area. During this conflict the Wa army occupied areas close to the Thai border, ending up with the control of two separate swathes of territory north and south of Kengtung. UWSA is one of the 17 armed ceased fire groups that attended long National Convention orchestrated by Myanmar military.
In August 2009, the United Wa State Army became involved in the Kokang incident, a violent conflict with Burma's military junta's Myanmar Armed Forces (Tatmadaw). This was the largest outbreak of fighting between ethnic armies and government troops since the signing of the cease-fire 20 years earlier.
Involvement in drug trafficking
The cease-fire agreement allowed the United Wa State Army to freely expand their logistical operations with the Burmese military, including the trafficking of drugs to neighbouring Thailand and Laos.
The United States government Drug Enforcement Administration labelled the UWSA as a narcotic trafficking organisation on 29 May 2003. On 3 November 2005, The Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control listed 11 individuals and 16 companies that were "part of the financial and commercial network of designated significant foreign narcotics trafficker Wei Hsueh-kang and the United Wa State Army (UWSA)." The UWSA is said to be the largest drug-producing organisation in Southeast Asia. The UWSP on its part blamed both the Ne Win military government and the CPB for using the Wa as "pawns in the violent destructive games" and encouraging them to grow the opium poppy.
The opium poppy harvest had increased since the former drug baron and warlord Lo Hsing Han managed to rebuild his drug empire after he became the intermediary for cease-fire agreements between the military intelligence chief Khin Nyunt and the Kokang and Wa insurgents who had rebelled against and toppled the Communist leadership in 1989. In addition to the traditional Golden Triangle export of opiates, production has diversified to methamphetamine, or yaa baa, which is cheaper and easier to manufacture than heroin. Thai authorities have denounced methamphetamine production, trafficking, and consumption as a threat to national security. It denied involvement in Mekong incident of 5 November 2011.
In recent years, poppy cultivation has declined in both northern Laos and the Wa region partly as a result of a ban imposed by the UWSP in 2005. In 1999, Bao You-Xiang ordered a forced relocation, away from the poppy fields, of six northern Wa districts south to mainly Shan and Lahu areas. The World Food Program (WFP) and China also provided emergency food assistance to former poppy farmers. Chinese criminal organisations in the area however may have simply switched the production line from heroin to amphetamine -type stimulants (ATS) such as yaa baa.
Wei Hsueh-kang founded the Hong Pang Group in 1998 with revenues from the drug trade after taking advantage of the privileges offered in the cease-fire deal by Khin Nyunt. Its position in the country's economy, not just the Wa State, is reflected by the multitude of businesses it owns and controls in construction, agriculture, gems and minerals, petroleum, electronics and communications, distilleries and department stores. Hong Pang Group is based at Panghsang with offices also in Yangon, Mandalay, Lashio, Tachilek and Mawlamyine and minor bases in Sankang and Khailong. UWSA also operated its own bank in the past.
Ho Chun Ting, a/k/a Aik Haw a/k/a Hsiao Haw, the son-in-law of Bao You-Xiang, is the principal owner and managing director of Yangon Airways and chairman of Tetkham Co Ltd that runs a chain of hotels. Close to Khin Nyunt and several other generals in the junta, he was also involved in gems auctions and several large construction projects with the Yangon City Development Council. He was reported to have fled to Panghsang following the arrest of his known associates in a drug-related offence in January 2009. Aik Haw was included in the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list published by the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control on 25 November 2008.
The United Wa State Army (UWSA) has five "divisions" deployed along the Thai-Burma border:
- 778th Division commanded by Ta Marn
- 772nd Division commanded by Ta Hsong
- 775th Division commanded by Yang Guojong
- 248th Division commanded by Ta Hsang and
- 518th Division commanded by Li Hsarm-nab.
On the China-Burma border are stationed another three "divisions":
- 318th Division
- 418th Division
- 468th Division.
The United Wa State Army has 30,000 active service men with a 10,000 strong auxiliary force. It is one of the largest cease fire groups. Monthly salary is only 60 CNY (7.5 USD). UWSA had clashes with the Thai Army in Mar-May 2002.
According to Jane's Intelligence Review in April 2008, China has become the main source of arms to the United Wa State Army, displacing traditional black market sources in South East Asia such as Thailand and Cambodia. A Jane's report in December 2008 stated that the UWSA had turned to arms production to supplement their income from arms and drug trafficking, and started a small arms production line for AK 47s.
Jane's reported in 2001 that the UWSA had acquired HN-5N Surface-to-air missile (SAMs) from China as part of the build-up near the Thai border where they were reported to be operating 40-50 laboratories manufacturing yaa baa. In November 2014, Janes further reported that the UWSA have acquired the FN-6 Surface-to-air missile to supplant the HN-5N in service, which was promptly denied by the UWSA. It is also the middleman between Chinese arms manufacturers and other insurgent groups in Myanmar. By 2012, Chinese support had increased to the point of supplying armoured vehicles such as the 6 x 6 PTL-02 assault gun being sighted in Pangkham.
On 29 April 2013, Janes IHS reported that several Mil Mi-17 helicopters armed with TY-90 air-to-air missiles were supplied to UWSA by China. The allegations were dismissed by China, Thai military sources, other Myanmar ethnic sources and the UWSA themselves. In 2015 IHS Jane's reported that UWSA members had been photographed training with Chinese Type 96 122 mm howitzers and HJ-8 ATGMs.
The towns of Panghsang and Mong Pawk are within the area of this special region. The UWSA negotiated a cease-fire agreement with the Burmese military in the 1990s, and currently backs a counterinsurgency strategy of the Myanmar Army against the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S). The UWSA defied the military regime's recent demand to disarm and participate in the 2010 elections, and instead proposed to declare the territory under their control as a special autonomous region.
According to 2008 constitution, six townships are designated as the Wa Self-Administered Division. Those are Mongmao, Pangwaun, Namphan, Pangsang a/k/a Pangkham, Hopang and Matman Township. Although Mong Pawk is not part of it, but part of Mong Yang Township, the UWSA was strongly against to give away that area from its control because it serves as a link with its ally, the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) in Mongla. Hopang and Matman are not under UWSA control. UWSA announced its territory as Wa State Government Special Administrative Region in January 2009.
In popular culture
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