UWSA leader Bao Youxiang and China's special envoy for Asian affairs Sun Guoxiang watch a military parade to commemorate 30 years of a ceasefire between the armed group and the Myanmar military in the UWSA headquartes of Panghsang on April 17, 2019. (AFP)

UWSA fires top officials wanted by China for online scams


Myanmar’s most powerful ethnic armed organisation, the United Wa State Army, has expelled two top officials wanted by Beijing for involvement in online scams targeting Chinese citizens, it has said.

With a standing force of around 25,000 fighters, the UWSA commands one of the world’s largest non-state militaries, conscripting a member from each household in its enclave on Myanmar’s northern border with China.

Long accused of being a major player in Southeast Asia’s billion-dollar methamphetamine trade, the UWSA has also been accused of allowing online scam centres to operate on its territory.

The scammers often target Chinese citizens and groom them for weeks before cajoling them into ploughing money into fake investment platforms and other ruses – angering Beijing.

Earlier this month, Chinese authorities issued an arrest warrant for Bao Yanban and He Chuntian.

The two had “organised and opened fraud dens for a long time to carry out telecom and network fraud criminal activities targeting Chinese citizens”, according to a police notice.

On Monday, the UWSA said it had “withdrawn” Bao’s politburo membership, expelled him from the party and military, and stripped him of his role as head of the construction ministry.

It did not give details on the current whereabouts of Bao – who also goes by the name Chen Yanban – or He, who is also known as Xiao Yankui.

He Chuntian was stripped of his role as mayor of a district in Wa State, according to a UWSA statement sent to Agence France-Presse.

Both men had “violated Chinese law and regulations and… brought huge negative impact on Wa… and also influenced the political trust and relationship between Wa and neighbouring countries,” it said.

AFP has contacted the Chinese embassy in Yangon for comment.

Once a Chinese enclave, the Wa people became known by British colonisers as the “wild Wa” for their fearsome reputation for headhunting.

The Wa region remains virtually locked-off, ringed by checkpoints and tight internal controls and uses the Chinese yuan and internet services in its territory.

The UWSA is the best-equipped of Myanmar’s dozen or so ethnic armed groups. Analysts say China supplies much of its weaponry.

The cyber scams anger Beijing – a major ally and arms supplier of Myanmar’s internationally isolated junta.

The junta has reported making several dozen arrests of scam ringleaders and workers after China in July told it to “root out” scam centres targeting its citizens.

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