The top Shan army leader says now is a “golden opportunity” for a top commander of the United Wa State Army who is wanted by the US on drug changes to cooperate in Nawpyitaw’s drug elimination policy.

Lt-Gen Yawdserk, the chairman of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), said Wei Xuegang, the commander of the United Wa State Army’s 171st Military Region, should join the Burmese government’s anti-drug campaign. Wei Xuegang has been wanted in Thailand since 1990 and in the United States since 1998 on drug charges.

“President Thein Sein has declared the elimination of (illicit) drugs by 2014,” Yawdserk said last week, according to a report in the Shan Herald . “The UWSA also has an anti drug policy. It has also held several drug-burning ceremonies. If they are farsighted and, together with us, help the government to eliminate drugs, warrants issued by foreign governments against him and other senior leaders in the UWSA will gradually lose their efficacy.”

“This is the golden opportunity that will never come again,” he told the news agency. It was unclear how such cooperation could effect the charges by the US and Thai authorities.

Wei, together with seven other Wa leaders, were indicted by the US Justice Department, which has an offer of “up to $ 2 million” for information leading to his arrest.

Yawdserk’s remarks came as tensions between the two armed ethnic groups have increased, following the Wa’s detention of 14 SSA members on July 30 in Mongton Township, who they said were setting up a military outpost at Pong Tawng, a location claimed by the UWSA as part of its territory.

Last week, the SSA dispatched officers twice to negotiate for their release, but came back empty handed each time.

Sources close to UWSA said it believes the SSA might join forces with the Burmese Army against it, said the news agency. The SSA said the suspicions are unfounded.

“We also don’t have any plans to drive the Wa (from the Thai-Burmese border areas),” Yawdserk was quoted as saying. “We consider them as fellow citizens of the same country. I’m therefore only thinking of how we can live together in harmony.”

The conflict between the two armies goes back to 1985, when Wei broke away from Khun Sa, the region’s former drug lord and the leader of the Mong Tai Army (MTA), the SSA’s predecessor, to form the Wa National Council (WNC), which later merged with the UWSA. The two sides last fought at Loi Taileng, opposite Maehongson, in 2005.

“We don’t have any racial problem between us,” said Yawdserk. “Neither do we have any commercial market to grab away from each other.”