The Burmese government has signed an agreement with a major ethnic rebel group to build mutual trust in an effort to defuse recent tensions between the armies from the two sides, state-run media reported yesterday.
The Kyemon daily said the five-point agreement signed on Friday between a government peace delegation and the ethnic Wa rebel group includes clauses calling for prompt meetings to be held between the two armies whenever military issues arise and committing the rebel United Wa State Army (UWSA) not to secede.
The Burmese government is seeking comprehensive peace agreements with all of the country’s ethnic rebel groups and has reached new cease-fire agreements with many of them, but it continues to have armed confrontations with some of the major ones.
Friday’s move represents a step forward in the government’s peace efforts.
For decades, Myanmar has faced rebellions from several minority groups seeking autonomy. The Wa, in the country’s north, are believed to have the biggest of the ethnic guerrilla armies, with as many as 30,000 men.
Tensions have risen recently in the Wa region after government troops asked the guerrillas last month to abandon some territory it controls. The Wa refused to abandon their positions, and government troops surrounded them.
The Wa, who once served as a major fighting force for the now defunct Burmese Communist Party, reached a peace agreement with Myanmar’s former military regime in 1989. It allowed the ethnic group to exercise a measure of autonomy in its region and even maintain a powerful armed force.
The United Wa State Army had been accused by the US and Thailand of involvement in the illicit drug trade, but the Wa denied the charges and have declared their region an “opium cultivation-free zone” since 2005.
Friday’s agreement between also called for cooperation between the government and the UWSA for regional development and drug eradication efforts.
The effort to calm guerrilla conflicts follows efforts to calm religious strife that has left more than 250 people dead and cause 140,000 to flee their homes over the past year, most of the Muslim.
After weeks in which it seemed that only Muslims were being punished for the violence, 25 Buddhists were sentenced to as many as 15 years in prison for murder and other crimes during a night of rioting, burning and killing in Meikhtila.
In the riots, Buddhist mobs torched Mingalar Zayone Islamic Boarding School, Muslim businesses and 12 mosques.