Ethnic Shanni Reject Move to Grow Naga Territory in NW Myanmar
By Lawi Weng 17 February 2020
Several ethnic Shanni organizations in northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing Division have objected to an ethnic Naga politician’s move to have Hkamti and Homalin townships incorporated into the Naga Self-Administered Zone (SAZ).
U Aung Khin, chairman of the Shanni Solidarity Party (SSP), told The Irrawaddy on Monday that his organization objects to the actions of respected Naga politician U Ki Shi Mu, who asked Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to make Hkamti and Homalin part of the Naga SAZ during the State Counselor’s trip to the area from Jan. 21-23.
“Our residents will protest if the government recognizes Homalin and Hkamti as part of Naga,” he said. “It will become an ethnic conflict if the government recognizes our region as part of theirs.”
Homalin and Hkamti townships both fall within Hkamti District in Sagaing Division. The Shanni recognize the area as their territory and it was historically ruled by Shanni saophas, or rulers. Their culture is still alive in the region, but the Shanni say this would be thrown into question if the area is incorporated into the Naga SAZ.
There are 80,000 Shanni in Homalin and 10,000 in Hkamti, according to the SSP.
The Naga were given a self-administered zone under the 2008 Constitution consisting of Lahe, Leshi and Namyun. According the Shanni, the Naga are now asking the government to add Homalin and Hkamti in order to gain access to more flat land for growing food.
“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,” said U Aung Khin.
U Ki Shi Mu’s request to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi last month was not the first time the Naga have asked the government to add Hkamti and Homalin to the Naga SAZ. Local residents recall that the Naga also petitioned Myanmar’s last government, under U Thein Sein.
The Naga region has faced periodic food shortages and residents have come to ask the Shanni in Hkamti and Homalin for food.
“We share our food when they come. Our Shanni treat them well. But they ask that our region become a part of theirs now and our Shanni are not satisfied with it,” said U Aung Khin.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visited Sagaing Division from Jan. 21-23 and held a public meeting in Leshi Township.
Shanni community leaders in Homalin and Hkamti said they did not object to U Ki Shi Mu’s request to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at first, but were disappointed when they learned that the government appears to be acting on the request. Shanni leaders report seeing a letter sent by officials in the Sagaing capital of Monywa on Feb. 14 asking the Leshi Township Authority to submit paperwork regarding the addition of Homalin and Hkamti to the SAZ.
U Shu Maung of the Naga National Party (NNP) told The Irrawaddy that the issue is political and that other ethnic regions have had similar disputes over territory that must be solved through negotiations.
“We can only find a solution if all our Naga and Shanni sit at one table and negotiate it,” said U Shu Maung.
He said that his ethnic group is justified in speaking out about their political rights as they are under threat.
He said that U Ki Shi Mu did not make his request to the State Counselor on behalf of all Naga people but that it does reflect the desires of some Naga, as he is a respected politician in the community.
The SSP has reported that some government departments in Homalin have asked Shanni people what they think of the idea of adding Homalin and Hkamti to the Naga SAZ.
“We will not accept our region becoming a part of Naga. We replied that we will not be a part of Naga,” said U Aung Khin.
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