Chiangrai Times – The Third Army is preparing to accommodate a possible influx of refugees from Myanmar if a confrontation between the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Shan State Army (SSA) turns violent.
More than 1,000 UWSA troops from across the border opposite Chiang Mai’s Mae Ai district have moved to surround Doi Ko Wan, an SSA military base across from Chiang Rai’s Mae Fa Luang district.
An army source said Third Army commander Chanchainarong Thanarun has instructed army personnel to prepare accommodation for refugees and provide them with aid if clashes break out between the UWSA and the SSA.
The Third Army’s Pha Muang task force has also been told to beef up security along Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai’s borders with Myanmar to prevent forces from either side in the conflict slipping into Thailand, the source said.
Col Gonjin, commander of the SSA base, said UWSA troops moved in on his base on Saturday.
Although there have been no clashes between the two sides, Col Gonjin said he had been directed by SSA leader Lt Gen Yod Suk to be on full alert.
Col Gonjin said he expected the Myanmar government to step in to resolve the tensions.
SSA spokesman Lao Hseng said the move by the UWSA troops could stem from the Wa army’s unease over increased cooperation between the SSA and the Myanmar government.
Col Lao Hseng said UWSA military leader Wei Hsueh-kang was probably dismayed that the SSA and the Myanmar government were making progress in efforts to suppress the drugs trade during their recent ceasefire talks.
The UWSA is considered a major drug producer and trafficker in the Golden Triangle region.
Talks between Gen Soe Win, Myanmar’s deputy commander-in-chief, and Lt Gen Yod Suk were held on May 19 in Kyaing Tong in the northeastern Shan state. They initially hit a stalemate as Myanmar would not meet the SSA’s key demands _ to cease regarding the group as a rebel army and to allow it to develop two towns close to the Thai border.
However, Gen Soe Win sought the SSA’s support on a joint narcotics suppression operation, an issue that had initially been at the bottom of the agenda.
The meeting marked the first time Gen Soe Win and Lt Gen Yod Suk had sat down at the same table.
Lt Gen Yod Suk said he was disappointed with the meeting’s outcome but said it opened the door for further talks.
An SSA source said the failure of the Myanmar government to meet these two demands could stall or even derail future talks.
However, the source believes Myanmar will want to maintain the momentum of reconciliation with the rebel group as the country continues to open up.
Part of Myanmar’s motivation in seeking to establish a joint narcotics suppression operation in Shan state was to shed its negative image as a drug-dealing pariah country, the source said.
Lt Gen Yod Suk acknowledged the urgency of drug eradication efforts and said he was glad the Myanmar government was “on the same page” as him.