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United Wa State Army (UWSA) commander Bao Youxiang urged the leaders of 12 ethnic armed groups attending a conference at the Wa headquarters in Panghsang to support and recognise the Wa Autonomous State.
Hosting the summit, which follows on the heels of a draft nationwide ceasefire agreement, or NCA, agreed between the Burmese government and ethnic members of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team on 31 March, the UWSA’s commander-in-chief called for peace to be implemented quickly in Burma.
“It is time to establish common ground on peace and to finally sign a nationwide peace treaty,” he said.
His comments come despite the UWSA previously maintaining a hardline on the NCA talks, saying it would only participate once an agreement had been signed and political dialogue was under way.
Bao Youxiang added: “Fighting continues. It [NCA] would just be words on paper if there are still uncertainties and the conflict cannot be stopped.”
He said that ethnic minorities in Burma have long been discriminated against, with no respect for their dignity and no protection offered by the nation’s laws.
The Wa leader then called for his fellow ethnic delegates to support the UWSA’s demand that the government recognise an autonomous Wa State within Shan State as per a proviso in the 2008 constitution which recognises six townships within what is referred to as ‘Wa State Government Special Administrative Region’.
The UWSA originally declared its autonomy unilaterally on 1 January 2009.
The region in question covers 17,000 square kilometer and has a land border with China. The Wa have a population of 600,000, Closely related to Han Chinese, the Wa speak three dialects of their own language – Parauk, Vo and Awa – however Mandarin is widely used at marketplaces where the Chinese yuan is the common currency.
Bao Youxiang currently holds three senior positions: commander-in-chief of the UWSA; secretary general of the United Wa Solidarity Party; and chairman of the Wa State People’s Government.
Aside from the UWSA, the ethnic summit in Panghsang includes senior representatives of the following ethnic armed groups: Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA); Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO/KIA); Karen National Union (KNU); Ta-ang National Liberation Army (TNLA); Arakan Army (AA); Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP/SSA); National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA- Mong La); New Mon State Party (NMSP); Pa-O National Liberation Organisation (PNLO); Karenni National Progressive Party )KNPP); and the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (Kokang group- MNDAA).
The Burmese government has objected to the inclusion of the MNDAA as conflict between government troops and the Kokang army continues in northern Shan State.
The summit in Panghsang, officially known as Pangkham, was originally slated from 1- 3 May, but now looks likely to continue until 6 May.