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Burma’s most powerful ethnic armed group lashed out at the government Monday after police raided one of its offices, ratcheting up tensions following months of deadly clashes between the army and ethnic militants.
Police and military officers reportedly broke into the liaison office of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) in Lashio, northeastern Shan State, in their hunt for a Wa man accused of letting off a rifle.
The spat comes after months of fighting between the Burma Army and ethnic armed groups on the border with China that has claimed dozens of lives and sent tens of thousands fleeing from their homes.
The UWSA, or Wa, are by far Burma’s largest and most powerful ethnic militia.
They have a decades-old peace deal with the government that affords them control of a large chunk of territory bordering China where the production of heroin and methamphetamine flourishes.
They are also a key power-broker in the faltering push by de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi to end decades of ethnic conflict, holding considerable sway over smaller non-state armed groups still fighting the government.
But the Burma police raid on their office in Lashio, which lies some 50 kilometres (30 miles) to the west of the Wa’s territory, infuriated the militia, which said it could “harm stability and peace for both sides.”
“We strongly reject and denounce such kind of behaviour, which is not in accordance with the law,” the Chinese-backed militia said in a statement.
“Lashio police force must apologise for breaking into the Wa State liason office. … Otherwise, we have the right to carry out any kind of response necessary to this case.”
Burma government spokesman Zaw Htay confirmed a Wa man was accused of letting off his gun in the Shan State capital of Taunggyi last week, but made no further comment.
The China-backed UWSA is fiercely proud and rejects any intrusion onto its territory by Burmese forces.
In February its chairman held a conference with leaders from the most powerful armed ethnic groups that have refused to sign up to the government’s ceasefire deal.