Burma's strongest ethnic armed group of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) is confident of the “upper hand” in any battle with government troops after being equipped with more than 30 US-manufactured surface-to-air missiles, according to a recent dispatch by WikiLeaks.
Rangoon-based United States Embassy Charge d'Affaires Larry Dinger sent the cable in January 2010 after talking with UWSA's Deputy Liaison Officer Soe Than.
In the cable, Soe Than also predicted that Burmese troops would face serious logistical challenges and numerous potential casualties if they were to attack the group.
The UWSA also received financial and moral support from China, said Soe Than.
He said the Chinese thought the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) was angling for new allies—specifically the US, North Korea and Russia—so China was beefing up its financial and military support for the UWSA in response.
Chinese government representatives attend all UWSA ceremonies and five representatives from the Chinese Embassy in Rangoon attended a Wa anniversary celebration in December 2009, he added.
A separate 2009 cable concerning the UWSA also claimed that the group was well-armed with US-manufactured grenade launchers, as well as shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missiles and launchers provided by Russia.
The cable claims that there were 30,000 active-duty Wa troops with an additional 10,000 youth and auxiliary forces, many of whom are enrolled in training or engaged in agriculture.
“The only threat the UWSA is not prepared to face is major airstrikes by the Burma Army,” Soe Than was quoted in the cable.
The Wa group found it easy to purchase arms from Thailand, China (including Hong Kong), and Singapore, according to leaked documents. But the UWSA denied manufacturing armaments or purchasing shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missiles and launchers from Russia in 2005 or 2006.
Hong Pang Company, based in Tachilek, is the parent company for many Wa investments, said Soe Than.
He also claimed the UWSA has over US $2billion invested in “transportation (including Yangon Airway), hotels (including Yangon City Hotel), restaurants, gems, mining, teak, road/building construction, property development, manufacturing (including of the ubiquitous plastic rice bags), wood processing (including a facility at the Mingaladon Industrial Estate near Rangoon's airport), massage parlors, and music recording studios (including "NASA" Studio—NFI).”
For the Wa, retention of the UWSA is non-negotiable and leaders are prepared to abandon all legitimate economic interests throughout the country—estimated by the Wa as over US $2 billion—if necessary to preserve their right to arms.
Since last year, the Burmese regime has been pressuring 17 ceasefire armies to accept the Border Guard Force (BGF) plan, but only a few have joined. The others, including the UWSA and the Kachin Independence Army, have refused.
Comparing Military Security Affairs Chief Lieutenant General Ye Myint with former Prime Minister and Military Intelligence Chief Khin Nyunt, UWSA Commander Bao Youxiang said he respected Khin Nyunt.
In 2009, Bao Youxiang met with Ye Myint for 30 minutes but no solution regarding the BGF was reached. The UWSA did not accept the Burmese government's BGF proposal but opted to “not answer” rather than reply no.
Soe Than said, “You can never trust the SPDC. They always negotiate while holding a sword behind their back.”
Burma's ethnic Wa population is estimated at nearly one million and strives to maintain its army and autonomy over its own ethnic region, but has expressed no desire leave the federal system and secede from Burma.