Thursday, August 31, 2006

Tough year in the offing for Wa

News - S.H.A.N.

Wednesday, 30 August 2006

The visit to Panghsang by Lt-Gen Thein Sein, Secretary 1 of the ruling military council's, August 15 had failed to bring about the relaxation in the restrictions on the timber and mineral exports imposed by China at the request of Burmese authorities, according to both local and non-local businessmen.

Thein Sein had met the Wa's No. 2 man, Xiao Minliang, to negotiate the resumption of the hitherto booming timber and mineral trade suspended since March 26. "He had proposed that the Wa allow junta-operated immigration, customs and schools to move in," said a disappointed Thai businessman of Shan descent. "The Wa, however, had refused to budge." The report was confirmed by a Wa source.

On the other hand, human traffic has not been affected by the ban, which is in sharp contrast to Panghsang's neighbour Mongla in the southeast, run by its ally Sai Leun aka Lin Mingxian, where passages by people are heavily restricted but trucks loaded with coal, manganese and other minerals mined in the area roll into China practically unchecked. (Nay Pyi Taw's schools, customs and immigration are permitted to operate in Mongla.)

Back in Panghsang, timber trucks can pass through the border checkpoints into China 's Meng Lien only after paying a hefty duty, Y 5,000 ($ 625) per ton. In addition, there must be sufficient documentation that the logs originate either in Thailand or Laos , but not Burma. "For big companies, that's not such a big deal," said a Chinese businessman of Shan descent. "But for many other such as ours, it's not an easy option."

Over a year has gone by since the Wa had declared its drug-free stance, and as each month goes by, they are finding it more and more challenging to stick to their word, although Xiao Minliang, on June 26 making the first difficult year of the Wa's "supreme sacrifice", as he called it, had promised to hang on whatever the outcome.

"We had expected that assistance would flow in," said a Wa administrative officer in Pangkham ( Land of Gold ), as Panghsang ( Land of Bamboo ) is officially known. "But what we are getting is only a tenth of what we need."

The UN World Food Programme (WFP), for instance, has only been able to provide rice for children going to school, but not much for adults, according to him.

The WFP, in its April evaluation report, made no bones about the Wa statement. One big problem it has been facing since the ouster of Gen Khin Nyunt in 2004 is that it has to go through a "cumbersome permit process": first, from the Trade Policy Council headed by Deputy Senior General Maung Aye; secondly, from the Rangoon Region Command before transporting rice to Mandalay; thirdly, from the Mandalay-based Central Region Command before transporting rice to Lashio; and finally, from the Lashio-based Northeastern Region Command before transporting it to the Wa, Kokang, Kachin and Palaung recipients.

"What's more, their attempt to sell off their old stock (of heroin) in September (2005) had also been foiled (when the Burma Army, reportedly tipped off by China seized the cargo in Mongpiang)," said the Thai businessman. "So their only way out is to hand over the financial rein to Wei Hsuehkang (which they did on July 4)."

Wei Hsuehkang, the de facto commander of 171st Military Region that adjoins northern Thailand, is wanted both in the kingdom and the United States on drug charges.

Commenting on the latest developments, Sao Seng Suk, Chairman of the exiled Shan Democratic Union (SDU), said, "It seems the junta is doing its best to prevent the Wa from turning over a new leaf."

The WFP meanwhile is planning to continue its food programme for another three years, from January 2007 to December 2009. Besides the WFP, another UN agency, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is operating in the Wa region.

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