The United Wa State Party: Narco-Army or Ethnic Nationalist Party?
Policy Studies, No. 38
Washington, D.C.: East-West Center Washington; Singapore: ISEAS Publishing
This monograph argues that although the United Wa State Party (WSP) has been branded by the international community as a "narco-trafficking army," the organization has an ethnic nationalist agenda whose aim is to build a Wa state within Burma. The UWSP is not innocent of narcotics-related crimes, but few conflict parties in Burma can claim to have clean hands. The weak capacity of the UWSP leadership has prevented it from developing a clear vision of how to develop a Wa state. Although the UWSP has promoted Wa nationalism, the population under its control is not mono-ethnic. The UWSP has implemented a ban on opium cultivation to comply with international pressure. It has called for international aid to offset the impact of the ban, but so far not enough assistance has come through. The organization has relocated thousands of Wa villagers to the Thai border area, displacing part of the original Lahu, Akha, and Shan populations and aggravating ethnic tensions.
Relations with the government remain tense, and peace has not been achieved. It is unlikely the UWSP will agree to disarm until some of its basic demands have been met. The United States has indicted eight UWSP leaders on drug trafficking charges. Thailand sees the UWSP as a security threat and accuses it of producing amphetamines. China has a better relationship with the UWSP and has given support and technical advice to the organization. The drug trade is controlled by powerful ethnic Chinese syndicates that have no interest in conflict resolution and state building. Demonizing and isolating the UWSP will make the organization more dependent on them, and will obstruct reconciliation efforts in Burma.