Gov’t Sends Second-tier Officials to Attend UWSA Anniversary Celebration

No top-level government or military leaders will be in attendance as the United Wa State Army marks 30 years of existence.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Representatives of Burma’s Union government will join ethnic leaders, peace negotiators and other observers at a ceremony to be held in Pangkham (Panghsan) on Wednesday to mark the 30th anniversary of the founding of the United Wa State Army (UWSA).

However, top leaders of the country’s government and armed forces, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, will be notably absent from the proceedings, despite receiving an invitation to attend.

In their place will be Labor, Immigration and Population Minister Thein Swe, Peace Commission Vice-Chairman Thein Zaw, President’s Office spokesperson Zaw Htay, and Shan State Security Affairs Minister Col. Hla Oo.

According to an ethnic leader who spoke to NMG, the government contingent arrived in Pangkham, the UWSA’s headquarters in the Wa Self-Administered Division, by helicopter on Tuesday morning.

The anniversary marks the founding of the UWSA on April 17, 1989, following the collapse of the Communist Party of Burma. The group signed a ceasefire agreement with Burma’s then ruling junta the following month and has since become the country’s largest and most powerful ethnic armed organization (EAO).

Although it is not a signatory to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), other EAOs that have signed the 2015 agreement, which is regarded as a cornerstone of government peace efforts, are also expected to attend today’s ceremony in Pangkham.

Leaders of the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC), a body consisting of EAOs that have not signed the NCA, arrived in Pangkham on Monday, according to the ethnic leader who spoke to NMG. The UWSA is chair of the FPNCC.

In addition, observers of ethnic affairs and others interested in Burma’s political situation will also attend the ceremony, sources said.

Maung Maung Soe, a political analyst who spoke to NMG, said that the government would do well to learn from the success of the UWSA in developing its self-administered region, and should also recognize the need for less centralized governance.

“There were only a few huts in this area just 20 years ago,” he said, calling the changes implemented since then an “unbelievable transformation.”

“The government clearly needs to understand that this country cannot be run under a unitary system controlled by Naypyitaw,” he added.

Today’s proceedings are expected to include speeches by UWSA Commander-in-Chief Pao Youxiang and a government representative, as well as a military march, cultural performances and sporting contests.

The UWSA is estimated to have 3,500 active-duty troops. Unlike most areas of ethnic conflict in Burma, including regions covered by ceasefire agreements, there have been no clashes between UWSA and government troops in the Wa Self-Administered Division since 1989.