Naga politician’s request threatens ‘ethnic conflict’ in Myanmar
Eastern Mirror Desk
Dimapur, Feb. 24 (EMN): A senior Myanmarese Naga politician’s request to the country’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, during her maiden visit to the Naga self-administered zone (SAZ) to include two adjacent territories into it, has threatened to spark an inter-ethnic conflict in Myanmar’s north-western area, according to reports.
During Suu Kyi’s maiden visit as the state counsellor – a position akin to the prime minister – to Lesi in the Naga SAZ, which also included a trip to the Bamauk township in the neighbouring Sagaing region between January 21 and 23, senior Naga politician U Ki Shi Mu had requested her to extend the Naga SAZ to the Hkamti and Homalin townships, reported The Wire on Monday.
These two townships, which are under the Hkamti district of Sagaing division, have been inhabited by the Shanni ethnic group aside from Tamu, which borders Manipur in India, according to the report.
Shanni organisations have reportedly expressed objection to such a request.
In a recent news report, The Irrawaddy quoted U Aung Khin, the chairman of the Shanni Solidarity Party (SSP), as saying, “Our residents will protest if the government recognises Himalin and Hkamti as part of Naga SAZ”.
He said, “It will become an ethnic conflict if the government recognises our region as part of theirs.”
According to the SSP, there are about 80,000 Shanni people in Homalin and about 10,000 in the Hkamti township.
In the constitution prepared in 2008, the Naga community of Myanmar were granted three areas – Lahe, Lesi and Namyum – with Lahe as the administrative seat.
U Aung Khin told the newspaper, “Homalin and Hkamti have rivers and farmland. We can survive on that farmland by growing food. For (the Naga), they do not have enough farmland to grow food, as most of their land is in the mountains. That’s why they’ve asked for these two townships.”
Media reports said that the Naga areas have regularly faced food shortage and had to procure foodgrains from Homalin and Hkamti areas.
According to U Shu Maung of the Naga National Party, “the issue is political and that other ethnic regions have had similar disputes over territory that must be solved through negotiations.” He said, “We can only find a solution if all our Naga and Shanni sit at one table and negotiate it.”
In an ethnically volatile region, the Shanni community has, since 1989, witnessed an armed group – Shanni Nationalities Army (SNA). The group has its bases in Homalim, Hkamti and Tamu adjacent to the Indian border. In April last year, an SNA functionary had told The Irrawaddy, “Our ethnic group didn’t take up arms, so we have been bullied a lot. I couldn’t stand it, so I joined this group to do my fair share.”