Myanmar's most powerful ethnic armed group, the United Wa State Army, has set out its demands for the peace process – including China’s participation – following talks with a delegation from the National League for Democracy.
U Soe Htay, a former senior military officer elected last year as NLD MP for Kawkareik township in Kayin State, confirmed yesterday that he had led a delegation of “observers” to the Wa stronghold of Panghsang in Shan State on the border with China from April 26 to 28.
The MP, a member of parliament’s peace and ethnic affairs committee, said he had served in the Wa area as a Tatmadaw commander and had friendly relations with the chief commander of the UWSA.
U Soe Htay said his visit was aimed at understanding the region. “We are going to the Wa region to observe the ethnic area for peace-building but were not assigned by the president or the state counsellor,” he said. He added that he had urged the UWSA to take part in a conference of all ethnic armed groups which Daw Aung San Suu Kyi called last week to be held within two months.
The UWSA maintains close ties to China and runs what amounts to a quasi-autonomous enclave serving as a conduit for jade and narcotics smuggled out of Myanmar. It refused to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement along with other major armed groups, leaving Myanmar government and military officials convinced that China was behind the boycott.
Chinese media at the weekend carried an eight-point statement by Xiao Mingliang, deputy chair of the UWSA administration, in which he said the Wa region looked forward to cooperating with the new government and that it respected the results of last November’s elections boycotted by the UWSA.
He then stated that the UWSA called on the government to hold a peace conference – with the participation of the United Nations and China as “witnesses” – to urgently resolve the conflicts in northern Myanmar. Such a conference would include the federal government, parliament, the military and all ethnic armed groups, Mr Xiao said.
Separately he called on the government to set up “liaison mechanisms” with ethnic armed groups. When conditions were ready, he said, then the government should embark on constitutional changes which should be neither wholesale nor minor. One change he appeared to endorse was removing the ban on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi serving as president.
Reflecting the UWSA’s close ties to China, the statement urged the NLD government in pursuing its economic policies to take advantage of China’s “One belt, one road” strategy of major infrastructure projects linking its near neighbours to markets in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The new government should also stick to a non-aligned foreign policy, the statement concluded.
U Tun Tun Hain, an NLD central executive committee member, said he had not known about U Soe Htay’s talks with the UWSA and that his visit had not been commissioned by the party or members of parliament. However a senior member of the NLD, who asked not to be named, told The Myanmar Times that U Soe Htay may have gone on the instructions of U Tin Myo Win, personal doctor to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who said last week said he would take on a liaison role with ethnic groups.
U Soe Htay said the most important aspect of peace-building was to “build reliable trust and strong relationships” with leaders of the ethnic armed groups.