Burma’s ruling junta has reportedly blocked the flow of food into the country’s volatile Wa state in a possible sign of looming hostilities against an ethnic army there.
Tension has been high recently between the Burmese army and United Wa State Army (UWSA), Burma’s largest ceasefire group. The two are currently in talks over the transformation of the UWSA into a Border Guard Force.
The 30,000-strong Wa army has so far refused to transform, raising concerns about the future of the already tenuous ceasefire it holds with the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). The transformation would see it reduce troop numbers and come under direct government control.
UWSA spokesperson Aung Myint said that the army “would accept” the transformation if certain conditions were altered, although did not elaborate on what these are.
The two sides met on 1 April, where the UWSA was asked by Burma’s military security chief, Ye Myint, to submit a proposal regarding the transformation, to be enacted on 28 April.
“It is hard to say whether there will be fighting right after 29 April or just later,” said Aung Myint. “Now the SPDC has blocked imports of food into the Wa state.”
“There is no food shortage yet in the Wa state but it won’t be good for long if the blockade continues.”
China has expressed concern about possible outbreaks of fighting in the Wa region, which is located in Burma’s northeastern Shan state and borders China. Last year, fighting between Burmese troops and a nearby ethnic Kokang army forced some 37,000 refugees across the border into China.
“China is worried about a refugee influx and weapons smuggling problems on their side if fighting breaks out, and has expressed a wish to maintain peace and stability and see development on the China-Burma border,” Aung Myint said.
The Wa army is predominantly made up of ethnic Chinese and is rumoured to receive financial and military support from Beijing. It is one of nearly 20 ethnic armies to have signed a ceasefire with the Burmese junta, although many of these now look increasingly fragile.
The junta has threatened to use force against the UWSA if it finally rejects the offer, and the Wa told DVB recently that it was “preparing for the worst” should it shun the proposal.