Military regime restarts talks with armed ethnic groups

After a month of relative calm on the Burmese border, the election-obsessed junta is turning its attention back to  consolidating ethnic armed militias.

For nearly a year, the SPDC has been working to transform the ethnic armed resistance forces along the border into border guard forces (BGF). The regime’s chief negotiator, Lt-Gen Ye Myint, will be meeting today with a delegation of ethnic Wa soldiers to discuss the United Wa State Army’s (UWSA) refusal to acquiesce to the regime’s demands. Ye Myint has insisted that holdout ethnic groups, including the UWSA, concede to the BGF plan by April 22nd or face repercussions by April 28th.

Armed UWSA fighters along the Chinese border (Source: The Irrawaddy)

The United Wa State Army was founded in 1989 after the collapse of the Communist Party of Burma, which played a large role in fighting for Burmese independence from the British. The new UWSA signed a ceasefire agreement with the militia the same year it was founded. However, as the SPDC pushes to absorb its forces into the Tatmadaw, the angry UWSA has taken up arms again and refused to cave in to the pressure.

Despite efforts to implement crop replacement programs, the UWSA continues to be the largest drug-producing organization in Southeast Asia. The majority of the militia’s funding comes from opium production. UWSA narcotics traffickers have funneled drug revenues into the national economy. The Hong Pang Group, founded by a prominent drug kingpin, controls businesses in construction, agriculture, mineral extraction, petroleum, electronics, and communications.

Due to their large coffers, the UWSA, unlike most of the armed groups, does not rely on the black market for its arms supply. China has become the UWSA’s main source of arms. In addition, China has played a major role in maintaining and mediating the relations between the Burmese regime and the ethnic ceasefire groups. In August of 2009, the Burmese regime launched an offensive against the Kokang Army, a northern ally of the UWSA. The clash resulted in more than 40,000 Kokang civilians fleeing into China’s southern Yunnan Province. In a rare public denunciation and unusual step of commenting on its neighbor’s internal affairs, the Chinese government warned the Burmese junta against further military action and called on the regime to safeguard regional stability. The huge influx of 40,000+ refugees was very upsetting for the Chinese government, which is concerned with stability within Burma to protect its strategic economic interests and along their mutual border.

The regime has paid relatively little attention to the border groups in the past month. Observers feel that the junta feels comfortable turning its attention back to the armed groups now that they have managed to force Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy out of the election process.

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