The strongest ethnic army in Burma, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), is reportedly considering a move to drop its independent status and accept a Burmese Army-run People’s Militia Force (PMF) status, according to an article by the Shan Herald news agency on Friday.
The UWSA rejected an offer to become part of the government’s Border Guard Force (BGF) in 2009, a status that the Wa and other many other major armed ethnic groups rejected.
Unlike the BGF, which is administered by Burmese Army officers, a PMF is both commanded and run by native officers. Both BGFs and PMFs come under the supervision of the Burma Army’s PMF and BGF directorates.
The Wa army is estimated to number 30,000 troops and 10,000 auxiliary members.
“We have been discussing it,” the news agency quoted an official. “But we have yet come to the final decision.” The Shan Herald news agency said the source quoted was not among the top UWSA officials.
If such a change were to come about, observers say the change in status would appear not to affect the group’s operations or the control of its territory, but it could serve to technically place the group a little closer to the ruling government. How that might benefit the Wa army and its political party is unclear.
The Wa army has long been known as the most powerful ethnic army in Burma. It is a major player in the opium, heroin and illegal amphetamine drug trade and is responsible for the bulk of the narcotics shipped to China and Thailand and points beyond.
The United States government labeled the UWSA as a narcotic trafficking organization on May 29, 2003.
The UWSA defied the former military regime’s demand to disarm and participate in the 2010 elections, and instead proposed to declare the territory under its control as a special autonomous region.
According to 2008 Constitution, six townships are designated as a Wa Self-Administered Division.
A Jane's report in December 2008 said that the UWSA had turned to arms production to supplement its income from drug trafficking and had started a small arms production line for AK 47s.
The UWSA is the military wing of the United Wa State Party (UWSP) and was formed after the collapse of the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) in 1989. The working language of UWSA is Chinese. UWSA announced its territory as Wa State Government Special Administrative Region in January, 2009.