RANGOON — The largest ethnic armed group in Burma, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), has selected 30 soldiers to receive pilot training in China, according to members of other ethnic rebel groups who recently visited the Wa headquarters in Panghsang in northern Shan State on the Burma-China border.
The claims are likely to fuel further speculation over whether or not the heavily-armed UWSA have acquired helicopters, as was first reported last year.
A senior officer of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) who visited Panghsang last month told The Irrawaddy that he had been informed of plans to send ethnic Wa fighters to China for pilot training.
“They [UWSA officials] said that they had selected 30 professionals. They will provide them with aviation training. They didn’t say why they will train their soldiers. But, I think they have big plans for military purposes,” said the KNLA officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A military official of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), who also visited Panghsang recently, said the UWSA leadership had made similar remarks indicating that Wa rebels will receive aviation training in China.
The Karen and Karenni rebel sources said they believed that the Wa were in possession of two helicopters, adding that they had seen helicopter landing grounds at UWSA’s headquarters. Both sources, however, said they had not observed any helicopters during their visits.
According to these sources, the UWSA also owns surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles, and a weapons-making facility that produces AK-47 rifles, explosive devices and other military hardware.
In April last year, Jane’s Intelligence Review reported that China had delivered several Mil Mi-17 ‘Hip’ medium-transport helicopters armed with TY-90 air-to-air missiles to the UWSA. Veteran Burma journalist Bertil Lintner reported in June 2013 that “two helicopters are reportedly stationed at a remote location near Pangwei in the northeastern Wa Hills, far from prying eyes.”
Kachin, tribal peoples occupying parts of northeastern Myanmar (Burma) and contiguous areas ofIndia (Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland) and China (Yunnan). The greatest number of Kachin live in Myanmar (roughly 790,000), but some 150,000 live in China and a few thousand in India. Numbering about 1012,000 in the late 20th century, they speak a variety of languages of the Tibeto-Burman group and are thereby distinguished as Jinghpaw, or Jingpo (Chingpaw [Ching-p’o], Singhpo), Atsi, Maru (Longvo), Lachid, Nung (Rawang), and Lisu .
The traditional Kachin religion is a form of animistic ancestor cult entailing animalsacrifice. As a result of the arrival of American and European missionaries in Burma beginning in the late 19th century, a majority of the Kachin are Christian, mainly Baptist and Roman Catholic. Among the Kachin in India, Buddhism predominates.