United Wa State Army

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United Wa State Army
ဝပြည် သွေးစည်းညီညွတ်ရေး တပ်မတော်
Participant in the Internal conflict in Myanmar
United Wa State Army flag.png
Flag of the United Wa State Army
Active 1989 (1989)–present
Ideology Wa nationalism[1]
Leaders Bao Youxiang
Wei Hsueh-kang
Headquarters Pangkham, Myanmar
Area of operations Wa Self-Administered Division
(Wa State)
Strength 20,000[1]–25,000[2]
Part of United Wa State Party
Originated as Communist Party of Burma

State allies
Myanmar Government of Myanmar

Non-state allies
National Democratic Alliance Army

United Liberation Front of Assam

State opponents
Union of Myanmar (until 1989)
Non-state opponents
Mong Tai Army (until 1996)
Shan State National Army (until 2005)

Shan State Army - South
Battles and wars Internal conflict in Myanmar
Areas under the control of the UWSA in 2015. The southern sector is not part of the traditional Wa territory.

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 as UWSA and also known 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[1]–25,000[2] 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.[4]

The UWSA announced its territory as the "Wa State Government Special Administrative Region" on 1 January 2009.[5] The de facto President is Bao Youxiang, and the Vice President is Xiao Minliang.[6][7] 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.[8]

Despite being de facto independent from Myanmar, the Wa State officially recognizes Myanmar's sovereignty over all of its territory.[9] In 1989 the two parties signed a ceasefire agreement, and in 2013 signed a peace deal.[10]


On 17 April 1989, ethnic Wa soldiers established the United Wa State Army and ended the long-running Communist insurgency in Burma.[11] On 9 May 1989, the Burmese government signed a cease-fire agreement with UWSA, formally ending the conflict.[12]

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.[13] The group's Deputy Commander-in-Chief is Zhao Zhongdang.[14] Aung Myint is the spokesperson.[15][16] 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.[17] Ta Maha Hsang sponsored the famous Panglong Agreement" song composed by Sai Kham Leik and song by Sai Hsai Mao.[18] Wa Supreme Court Chief is Li Zhao Guo.[19] Deputy Chief of External Relationship Department is Sun Khun.[20]

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.[21] UWSA is one of the 17 armed ceased fire groups that attended long National Convention orchestrated by Myanmar military.[22]

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.[1]

The United Wa State Army also works with the ULFA-ATF, an Assam resistant group based in Myanmar.[23][24]

Involvement in drug trafficking[edit]

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.[25]

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.[26]

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.[27] 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.[28][29] 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.[30]

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.[31] 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.[32] 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.[31]

Business operations[edit]

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[33] and minor bases in Sankang and Khailong.[34] UWSA also operated its own bank in the past.[35][36]

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.[37] 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.[38]

Former Thai Premier Thaksin Shinawatra and the Thai military have a long-standing business relationship with the UWSA.[39]


The United Wa State Army (UWSA) has five "divisions" deployed along the Thai-Burma border:

  1. 778th Division commanded by Ta Marn
  2. 772nd Division commanded by Ta Hsong
  3. 775th Division commanded by Yang Guojong
  4. 248th Division commanded by Ta Hsang and
  5. 518th Division commanded by Li Hsarm-nab.

On the China-Burma border are stationed another three "divisions":

  1. 318th Division
  2. 418th Division
  3. 468th Division.[40]

The United Wa State Army has 30,000 active service men with a 10,000 strong auxiliary force.[41] It is one of the largest cease fire groups. Monthly salary is only 60 CNY (7.5 USD).[42] UWSA had clashes with the Thai Army in Mar-May 2002.[43]

Arms supply[edit]

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.[44] 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.[45][46]

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.[47] 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,[48] which was promptly denied by the UWSA.[49] It is also the middleman between Chinese arms manufacturers and other insurgent groups in Myanmar.[50] 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.[51]

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.[52] The allegations were dismissed by China, Thai military sources, other Myanmar ethnic sources and the UWSA themselves.[53][54] In 2015 IHS Jane's reported that UWSA members had been photographed training with Chinese Type 96 122 mm howitzers and HJ-8 ATGMs.[2]


The towns of Panghsang and Mong Pawk are within the area of this special region.[4] 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).[45] 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.[55]

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.[14] UWSA announced its territory as Wa State Government Special Administrative Region in January 2009.[56]

In popular culture[edit]

The UWSA is a plot element in the American police procedural TV series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Season 8, Episode 17, "Sin".

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d Johnson, Tim (29 August 2009). China Urges Burma to Bridle Ethnic Militia Uprising at Border. The Washington Post.
  2. ^ a b c d Davis, Anthony. "Wa army fielding new Chinese artillery, ATGMs". IHS Jane's Defence Weekly. Retrieved 23 July 2015. 
  3. ^ "Wa State: Shanzhai Version Of China Discovered in Myanmar". chinaSMACK. 31 January 2012. Retrieved 20 January 2016. 
  4. ^ a b Chouvy, Pierre-Arnaud. "Myanmar's Wa: Likely Losers in the Opium War". Asia Times 24 January 2004. Archived from the original on 22 September 2010. Retrieved 13 March 2006. 
  5. ^ UWSA declares autonomous region
  6. ^ "A United Wa State Army (UWSA) delegation led by Vice President Xiao Minliang, Bao Youliang and Zhao Guo-ang left Panghsang for Lashio today". democracy for burma. Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  7. ^ S.H.A.N. "Panglong". Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  8. ^ "The United Wa State Army's uncertain future". PROJECT AK-47. Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  9. ^ 2011-10-13, 缅甸佤邦竟然是一个山寨版的中国, 军情观察
  10. ^ Myanmar signs peace treaty with Wa rebels Archived 20 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ Kramer, Tom (April 2009). "Twenty Years on, the Wa-Burmese Cease-fire looks shakier". Transnational Institute. Retrieved 19 February 2012. 
  12. ^ "Cease-Fire Agreements with the Junta – Women Excluded from the Process" (PDF). Global Justice Center. Retrieved 19 February 2012. 
  13. ^ "UCDP Conflict Encyclopedia, Myanmar (Burma)". Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  14. ^ a b S.H.A.N. "Shan Herald - Wa leader: UWSA able to defend itself". Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  15. ^ Civil servants return to Wa region
  16. ^ "Democratic Voice of Burma: UWSA will welcome dialogue – Ko Thet". Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  17. ^ Chiangrai Times Archived 25 March 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  18. ^ S.H.A.N. "Songwriter: 'Panglong Agreement' inspired by cartoon". Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  19. ^ The Irrawaddy Archives
  20. ^ "DVB: United Wa State Army mark anniversary – Nang Mya Nadi". Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  21. ^ S.H.A.N. "Wa will not budge from Thai border areas". Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  22. ^ "Mizzima News: UWSA defy junta's pressure, refuse to sign pre-written statement". Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  23. ^ Dholabhai, Nishit (31 May 2012). "June date for Ulfa dialogue". The Telegraph. Calcutta, India. 
  24. ^ "Giriraj Bhattacharjee, ULFA-ATF: Insignificant force?". Eurasia Review. Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  25. ^ "As Burma Reforms, Its Narcotics Trade Might Be Worsening". The Atlantic. 18 February 2012. Retrieved 19 February 2012. 
  26. ^ "UWSP:The Bondage of Opium - a proposal and a plea". ibiblio.org. Retrieved 29 October 2006. 
  27. ^ Bertil Lintner. "The Golden Triangle Opium Trade: An Overview" (PDF). Asia Pacific Media Services, March 2000. Retrieved 5 January 2009. 
  28. ^ Chouvy, Pierre-Arnaud & Meissonnier, Joël. "Yaa Baa. Production, traffic, and consumption of methamphetamine in Mainland Southeast Asia". Singapore University Press, 2004. Retrieved 13 March 2006.  }
  29. ^ Davis, Anthony (19 November 2004). "Thai drugs smuggling networks reform". Jane's Information Group. Archived from the original on 8 March 2005. Retrieved 5 March 2009. 
  30. ^ S.H.A.N. "Shanland - NDAA and UWSA deny involvement in Mekong incident". Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  31. ^ a b Tom Kramer. "Burmese Daze". The Irrawaddy magazine, November 2008. Retrieved 2 January 2009. 
  32. ^ Andrew Marshall; Anthony Davis (16 December 2002). "Soldiers of Fortune". TIME asia. Retrieved 21 February 2009. 
  33. ^ "The Hong Pang Group". Bangkok Post. 6 July 2008. Retrieved 20 February 2009. 
  34. ^ Rangoon’s “War on Drugs” in Shan State
  35. ^ "Thailand Blames Burma Junta for Meth Epidemic". Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  36. ^ National Strategy Page 3
  37. ^ Min Lwin. "Wa Businessman Flees Drug Charges". The Irrawaddy, 18 February 2009. Retrieved 20 February 2009. 
  38. ^ "Financial Institution Letter" (PDF). Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). 25 November 2008. Retrieved 20 February 2009. 
  39. ^ "Assassination claim manipulated for political gain". The Nation. 13 November 2012. Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  40. ^ "Transfer of Wa commander raises questions". S.H.A.N., 9 June 2009. Retrieved 12 June 2009. 
  41. ^ "Irrawaddy". Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  42. ^ S.H.A.N. "United Wa State Army (UWSA) payroll still going Communist way". Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  43. ^ "Talk of reopened border stirs bad memories for army". The Nation. 27 August 2012. Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  44. ^ Pubby, Manu. "China emerging as main source of arms to N-E rebels: Jane's Review". Indianexpress.com. Retrieved 8 June 2008. 
  45. ^ a b Lawi Weng (16 December 2008). "AK-47s - Made in Wa State". The Irrawaddy. Retrieved 22 December 2008. 
  46. ^ Lawi Weng. "Armed Insurgents in Burma Face Shortage of Ammunition". The Irrawaddy 22 December 2008. Retrieved 22 December 2008. 
  47. ^ Davis, Anthony (28 March 2001). "Myanmar heat turned up with SAMs from China". Jane's Information Group. Retrieved 5 March 2009. [dead link]
  48. ^ Davis, Anthony (18 November 2014). "UWSA fielding Chinese FN-6 MANPADS". Jane's Information Group. Retrieved 23 November 2014. 
  49. ^ "United Wa State Army Denies Anti-Aircraft Purchase". The Irrawaday. 20 November 2014. Retrieved 23 November 2014. 
  50. ^ "Asian Correspondent". Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  51. ^ John Pike. "With Burma in Mind, China Quietly Supports Wa Rebels.". Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  52. ^ "China sends armed helicopters to Myanmar separatists.". Retrieved 29 November 2014. 
  53. ^ "After Chinese Arms Allegations, UWSA Shows Off 'Thai' Military Hardware". The Irrawaddy. 14 May 2013. Retrieved 14 May 2013. 
  54. ^ "Doubts cast on Wa helicopter rumors". Mizzima News. 20 June 2013. Retrieved 20 June 2013. 
  55. ^ Lawi Weng. "UWSP Proposes Wa Autonomous Region". The Irrawaddy magazine, 5 January 2009. Retrieved 5 January 2009. 
  56. ^ Mizzima Archived 13 July 2012 at the Wayback Machine.


  • "U.S. Links 11 Individuals, 16 Companies to Burma Drug Syndicate." Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, US Department of State. 4 November 2005.
  • Jack Picone. "A Gentler War on Drugs." Utne, September–October 2005, pp. 68–71; originally in Colors magazine (Winter 2004-05)

External links[edit]