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United Wa State Army (UWSA) spokesman Aung Myint speaks to DVB about drugs, development and education in the Wa region.
Q: What role do you think the UWSA will play in the drug eradication programme that Burma has agreed to implement with the United Nations?
A: Needless to say, we realised once we made peace with the Burmese government in 1993 that growing opium as a business venture does not improve the lifestyle of our people; in fact, it is more likely to harm them, especially children. Drugs could lead to our extinction.
From that point, we adopted a policy to propagate, persuade and lead our people in the right direction.
In 1995, we adopted a ten-year programme for opium eradication. In 2005, we were completely opium free –we substituted opium plantations with rubber, tea and other cash crops such as sandalwood. Also, we use the best of our limited knowledge to mine minerals. But we have now completely eradicated the opium the English brought to us more than 100 years ago.
As a result, we have seen much more development in our region than, say, 20 years ago. Back in those days, we had no roads. Over the past 25 years, we have upgraded dirt tracks into gravel roads. We are now working on a five-year plan to further upgrade them – stretching about 700-800km in total – into two-lane, tarmac roads. Once this is completed, transportation in the region should be a lot more efficient and convenient.
If we can operate transportation correctly, local businesses will gradually grow. Now we have rubber plantation projects in many villages, which is creating income for many households. Nowadays many Wa people can afford to own motorbikes. This is a clear mark of improvement in the region’s economy.
Q: Can you tell us more about the two-lane road construction? When did it start?
A: We are now in the second year of a five-year plan to build two-lane roads over a stretch of about 700 km. So far, we have paved tarmac on about 200 to 300 km. We have also levelled the terrain, which is a large-scale project.
Q: So this may lead to the opening of schools, and further development in the region?
A: We have opened schools in many villages and towns in the Wa region. In the past, we did not have high literacy. Many adults were uneducated and could not even speak Burmese.
I think we now have about 300 schools in the Wa region. Our education policy is not restricted –if a teacher specialises in Burmese language, then he or she may open or run a Burmese language school, and the same applies for Shan, Wa and Chinese language lessons. We believe that education is worthwhile no matter which language is taught. We also encourage the study of mathematics and such. What we are trying to do is to develop middle and high schools that can accommodate students from different language backgrounds. So far we have about nine high schools like that.