Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Wa Rebels to Send Fighters to China for Pilot Training: Reports

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.”
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