Myanmar rebels convene in remote Wa region
The United Wa State Army (UWSA) holds sway over a secretive patch of borderland with a thousands-strong rebel fighting force, long accused of drug smuggling.
It called the meeting of around a dozen ethnic armed groups in April, despite not being part of the country’s peace talks.
“We are hoping this meeting will be strongly supportive of local peace and a nationwide ceasefire,” Major Tar Pan La, spokesman of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), told AFP.
He added that the talks began Friday and were expected to last until May 6.
President Thein Sein has secured a draft deal with 16 rebel groups to end decades of fighting, described by the United Nations as a “historic and significant achievement”.
The government wants a full nationwide ceasefire before elections in November seen as a test of reforms after decades of military rule.
But skirmishes continue in Kachin state, where a ceasefire deal collapsed in 2011 soon after the end of junta rule.
Heavy fighting has also erupted in the Kokang regions of northern Shan state, causing tens of thousands to flee over the border into China and sparking alarm in Beijing.
The Kokang fighters, who poured back into Myanmar in February after being driven out by troops in 2009 and have fought with help from the TNLA, are not part of the nation’s ceasefire talks, although they have been invited to the Wa meeting.
Bertil Lintner, author of several books on Myanmar and its ethnic minority regions, said the Wa talks were a way for Beijing to “put pressure on the government”.
“They do not want to lose influence in Burma,” he told AFP, using the country’s former name, adding that Beijing’s sway had diminished under the new regime, which has sought to open the country to the world after decades of isolation.
He said the Wa receive their weapons from China and are thought to be sharing them with fighters in Kokang. Both ethnic groups previously fought the government as part of the Communist Party of Burma.
Myanmar government forces have become locked in protracted conflict with Kokang ethnic Chinese rebels despite the use of air strikes and heavy artillery.
“It is a sign of weakness not a sign of strength. Casualties have been extremely high,” he said of the conflict.
The UWSA signed a ceasefire with the country’s military government back in 1989 and reiterated the deal in 2011.
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