Slowly as the years go on,
You lose friends you never thought you would.
Xzavier Zulu, Kushandwizdom
I was told in early September following the conclusion of the “historic” Union Peace Conference (21st Century Panglong), United Wa State Army (UWSA) leaders had expressed their displeasure with its closest ally Mongla, officially known as National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), for sending delegation led by its supreme leader Sai Leun aka Lin Mingxian himself to participate in the conference. The UWSA meanwhile had dispatched only a mission led by Hsarm Lawd, Tachilek based head of the liaison office, who returned after attending the opening ceremony on 31 August, when he charged his hosts of discriminate treatment.
I knew that Mongla, due to its aspiration of becoming a Self Administered Zone (SAZ), was developing closer relationship with Naypyitaw. But I had mistakenly taken for granted that the Wa, that already has been awarded a Self Administered Division (SAD), wouldn’t be hard to convince.
Most likely I didn’t have all the facts and the crack between two allies are deeper and wider than what we outsiders knew.
On 28 September, 63 Dongfeng military trucks led by 3 (some say 5) armored vehicles rolled into the NDAA domain, that occupies Burma’s part of the “Other Golden Triangle”, the remaining two being Laos and China’s Yunnan.
The 600 troops quickly surprised the defenders and seized the two strategic mountain outposts (Loi Kiuhsai and Loi Hsarm Hsoom) and the border checkpoint (Pang Markfai), apparently without facing resistance (some said the NDAA leaders thought the misunderstandings could be sorted out without resorting to bloodshed).
“ We tried to contact Panghsang to inquire what this is all about,” said an official source from Mongla. “But there was no response.”
As the two strategic outposts and the border checkpoint are facing the Burma Army-guarded Taping checkpoint on the Lwe, a tributary of the Mekong, its Triangle Region Command based in Kengtung at once made inquiries. The responses from the Wa side were not clear, according to Burma Army sources. “One Wa official said it was just a military exercise, nothing to worry about,” said one. “The other said it was just a dispute between subordinate units of the two sides and leaders believe they will be able to fix it in no time.”
SHAN said it was able to reach U Aung Myint aka Li Julie, the UWSA’s spokesman (at least until recently), but he had politely declined to answer.
Bao Youxiang with U Aung Myint on his left
The latest report is that Zhao Zhongdang, the UWSA’s deputy commander-in-chief, is coming to Mongla to parley.
The Wa presence in Mongla goes as far back as 2011, when the NDAA’s outposts along the Mekong: Wankho, Pong Hiet and Mongfan, were attacked by the Burma Army, citing security along the international river. The outnumbered NDAA had called for help and the Wa reciprocated by dispatching 3 battalions from the Mongpawk-based 468th Brigade (now commanded by Bao Ai Ban, nephew of the Wa supreme leader Bao Youxiang).
And, like most invited armies, the UWSA hasn’t bothered about returning to their home base since.
Of course, we don’t know what exactly Zhao is going to tell the Mongla leaders. But two things are certain:
As for Naypyitaw, and the other ethnic armed groups, both signatories and non-signatories, the time will soon come to decide whether to choose the victor or the vanquished. And their decision will definitely affect the ongoing peace process.
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