Tensions Rise Between Ethnic Militias and Burmese Army

Today is the deadline for government workers and NGO staffers based in Panshang, the headquarters of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), to relocate.

On Monday,  the Burmese regime instructed all staff members posted in Panshang to take long leave with full pay, a request that has not been made in twenty years. This order has raised questions on the intentions of the government and how they intend to quell the power of the UWSA.  The UWSA is the largest armed ethnic militia in Burma, largely funded through the trafficking of opiates and methamphetamine. Although the UWSA signed a ceasefire agreement with the junta in 1989, the deal was broken in 2009 when clashes broke out between the ethnic fighters and the Burmese Tatmadaw. Currently, the UWSA presents a real threat to the military regime, not only because of their 30,000 combat-ready troops, but also because of the role of China. Most ethnic militias inside Burma rely on arms from the black market. However, the Chinese have become the largest provider of arms to the UWSA, which operates on the Chinese border.

In an effort to consolidate power before the upcoming elections, the junta has demanded that ethnic militias join Border Guard Forces, which the government claims will receive the same wages, uniforms, and benefits as members of the Burmese Army.  While several ethnic militias have acquiesced to the demands of the junta, many groups, including the UWSA, refuse to compromise.

As businessmen leave Panshang, locals fear war between the militia and the Tatmadaw. According to other ethnic militia leaders such as Tawd Serk of the Shan State Army, the “Wa military leaders are itching for a fight”. However, despite the palpable tension between the UWSA and the Tatmadaw and the regime’s apparent determination to disarm uncooperative militias by force, few journalists or observers on the border believe that armed confrontation is imminent.

The UWSA has an estimated 30,000 combat-ready troops
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