The United Wa State Army is seeking to allay fears that it has invaded the territory of its neighbouring ethnic armed group and ally.

UWSA leader Bao Yu Xiang said in a letter sent to the peace commission that the recent deployment of Wa fighters into Mongla-controlled territory was not an intrusion, but a heavy military exercise.

“Maintaining peace and the non-disintegration of the Union, prioritising economic development, and improvement in social status are the goals of the United Wa State Army. We will not easily seek … armed hostilities,” the letter said.

Bao Yu Xiang said he has instructed his subordinates not to exaggerate the situation, or paint it as a misunderstanding between the Mongla and the Wa troops.

“The subordinate leaders from both sides have had effective talks and resolved disputes peacefully,” Bao Yu Xiang was quoted as saying in the statement.

Last week, the peace commission sent a letter to the UWSA requesting it withdraw its troops and solve the security situation in the area by peaceful means.

The Wa and the Mongla, both allies of China, operate autonomous enclaves along the border. On September 28, a convoy of as many as 600 Wa soldiers crossed over the border into territory controlled by its Mongla ally, the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), according to Shan Herald Agency for News.

The report alleged that the Wa troops had captured two mountain outposts – Loi Kiuhsai and Loi Hsarm Hsoom – as well as a strategic border checkpoint in the Mongla territory, and then arrested more than 150 guards. The detained soldiers were later released.

U Aung Kyi, a member of government’s peace commission, said, “We want the situation to be peaceful and stable.”

He denied that anything “bad or serious” was occurring in the eastern Shan State fiefdoms, but acknowledged that it is also impossible to know what is really happening between two of the country’s strongest ethnic armed groups.

“We do not know what is really happening on the ground and it’s hard to comment under these circumstances,” he said.

The UWSA has an estimated strength of nearly 20,000 fighters, whereas the Mongla’s NDAA has an estimated 3000 fighters, according to the Myanmar Peace Monitor.

Bao Yu Xiang noted in his letter to the peace commission that the UWSA and the Mongla both pledge to solve any contentions through peaceful means.

“Cooperating with the government’s National Reconciliation and Peace Centre, I hope that we will soon start peace and political processes after settling the three-step peace treaties,” said the statement.

However, government peace negotiators said they believe the three-tiered peace treaties referred to by the UWSA leader stem for a misunderstanding. Following from an explanation offered in the UWSA’s policy paper submitted to the 21st-century Panglong Conference, the treaties appear to mean the two state-level and one Union-level bilateral ceasefire agreement the Wa have signed, including with then-president U Thein Sein after 2011, as well as the ceasefire agreement that the Wa inked with the military regime in 1989.

Mongla representatives do not seem to share the UWSA’s perspective about the recent “military exercise” or any dispute of ceasefire signings, however.

In an interview with The Irrawaddy this week, U Kyi Myint, general secretary of the National Democratic Alliance Army (better known as the Mongla), said the NDAA leaders are disappointed its ally’s manners.

More than 1000 fighters are deployed in the Mongla’s strategic territory and checkpoints, U Kyi Myint said.

According to the Mongla officials, the Wa fighters crossed the border between the two groups’ territories to ignite a hostile invasion. The move dealt a shock to the Mongla leaders who thought they were maintaining a good relationship with the Wa leaders.

The UWSA had reportedly been ordered by the Tatmadaw’s Triangle Regional Command to withdraw its troops from the Mongla territory by October 24. Tatmadaw spokespeople could not confirm this request.

During an October 14 high level national security meeting, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing discussed the situation in Mongla, according to a statement from the President’s Office, which did not add further details.

Political analysts see the development between the two armed ethnic groups allied for more than two decades as presaging a military escalation along the border.

With its troops positioned in the north and south, and the Mongla territory between them, the Wa’s troop movement served to connect its two military positions, said U Ye Htun, a former parliamentarian.

Since the Union Solidarity and Development Party-led administration, the UWSA have demanded the government to upgrade its self-administered zone into an ethnic state. The request so far continues to be snubbed. Throughout the peace negotiations, the Wa have remained aloof, and did not sign last year’s nationwide ceasefire agreement. The group only sent a low-level delegation to the National League for Democracy’s Panglong Conference, and even that group walked out shortly after the meeting began. However, the Wa have expressed interested in being involved in the political dialogue stages.

U Ye Htun said the government should focus on negotiating with the bigger fish in the peace process, such as the UWSA.

“The government should first learn the state of the threat posed by the larger players, what their demands are and how negotiations can reach a settlement,” he said. “After it makes peace with the large players, the government’s dealings with the small groups under the influence of the large players will not be a problem any more.”