Wa-Bang, northern Shan State. Source: Wikimedia
One of Myanmar’s most powerful rebel armies has walked out of the so-called Panglong peace conference.
Representatives of the heavily armed, 20,000-member United Wa State Army (UWSA) left the summit in Nay Pyi Taw after being told that they could not address the five-day event.
The Wa’s departure was a “misunderstanding” that could be resolved, government negotiator Khin Zaw Oo told AFP. The Wa had reportedly been given “observer” badges, instead of ones allowing them to speak.
“Our committee will go and meet them if they are [in Nay Pyi Taw]. We will negotiate,” he said.
State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi “gave instructions that the peace process not be harmed because of this case”, spokesman Zaw Htay told the media.
A Wa representative told the Democratic Voice of Burma that the delegates walked out when they were told they were only attending as observers, saying it was discriminatory.
The event is widely seen as the best chance in decades to end wars with ethnic minority armies that have left thousands dead and prevented development in Myanmar’s periphery.
The UWSA agreed to a ceasefire with the government in 1989 in exchange for control of territory along the China border. The Wa region is notorious for drug manufacturing.
The Wa allegedly produces and distributes methamphetamines and heroin and buys weapons with the profits. Many ethnic-minority armies have grown rich from trafficking drugs, gems and timber while distrust remains towards the military. The armed forces still operate without any democratic checks in the border zones as the 2008 constitution gives the military control of the border affairs and defence ministries.
The UWSA had initially refused to attend the Panglong talks, otherwise known as the Union Peace Conference, saying it had already signed a ceasefire with the military government.
The WA agreed to attend after August discussions between Suu Kyi and China, which appeared to put pressure on the Wa attend. Beijing retains significant influence over the group.
Lian Hmung Sakhong from the Chin National Front denied the Wa were treated unfairly.
“We give equal rights to them and gave them a front-row seat. I would like to confirm again that we did what they demanded,” the Chin rebel leader said.
Suu Kyi has spoken extensively about the peace process throughout her many years in opposition. devoted her first few months in power to planning the summit, which she hopes will agree the blueprint for a new constitution.