Naga Leader SS Khaplang Dies Aged 77

By Nyein Nyein 11 June 2017

SS Khaplang, the Naga rebel leader of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K), passed away aged 77 on Friday, according to the Council of Naga Affairs (CNA) based in Zingkaling, Hkamti in Sagaing region, northwest Burma.

Recognized by the Naga people as a great Naga national and legendary leader, Shangwang Shangyang Khaplang (also spelled Sangwang Sangnyu Khaplang) died at his residence at around 7:30 p.m. local (Burma) time in Taka (also spell Taga), the headquarters of the NSCN-K in Sagaing division.

The CNA said in its condolence statement released on Saturday that “[SS Khaplang]’s sacrifice, leadership, unflinching spirit for the freedom of the Naga Nation will always remain a leading and inspiring torch in the hearts of Nagas for generations to come.”

He was the president of the NSCH-K since its formation in 1988 and the chairman of its government-in-exile—The Government of the People’s Republic of Nagaland (GPRN).

SS Khaplang took part in the Naga revolutionary movement begun in the 1960s and led various leadership roles: He was a vice chairman of the Eastern Naga Revolutionary Council from 1965 and President of the Naga National Council from 1979.

NSCN-K, formed in 1988, demands the “independence of Nagaland.” Prior to that, ethnic Naga fought for independence of Nagaland—both in Burma and India—under the National Socialist Council of Nagaland formed in 1980. But eight years later, the council was split into two fractions: One became the NSCN-K and another fraction, known as NSCN-IM, mostly fighting the Indian government, was led by Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah.

Indian media noted that SS Khaplang was wanted for an incident in India’s northeastern state of Manipur on June 4, 2015 in which 18 Indian security personnel were attacked.

Both China and India closely watch Naga groups and will be interested in who will succeed SS Khaplang. Burma expert Bertil Lintner reported in 2014 and 2015 that China used Naga as a back-channel against India.

According to Indian journalist Rajeev Bhattacharyya, who trekked into the Naga region in 2011 for almost two months, SS Khaplang was born in April 1940 and is survived by three sons and one daughter.

Little is currently known about the movement of the NSCN-K in the northwest of Burma, except that the NSCN-K signed a ceasefire agreement with the former Burma government on April 9, 2012, but has rarely been seen in the ongoing peace talks, only attending as observers. NSCN-K participated as an observer to the NCA-drafting process, but they were not interested in signing it.

The current National League for Democracy government’s peace negotiators, led by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, invited the NSCN-K to attend the latest 21st Century Panglong peace conference in May in August 2016 and May 2017, but they did not attend both times.

They reportedly operate in areas of Lahe, Leshi, Hkamti and Namyun townships in Sagaing Region. The ethnic Naga in Burma were given a self-administrative zone in Leshi, Lahe and Namyun townships under the military-backed 2008 Constitution.

In his last breaths, SS Khaplang shared his desire for his Naga followers to continue their fight for freedom, according to CNA’s chairman Athong Makury.

His will, translated by the CNA chairman, said: “I have stood under the banner of ‘Nagaland for Christ’ with the hope that my people may see both physical and spiritual freedom from the oppression of the ruthless occupiers. I have done my part for the freedom of my people with the little capacity God has given me.”

SS Khaplang encouraged the next generation to “never waver nor be carried away with the ideologies of the aliens that Nagas do not deserve to be a nation. As a human, I have done many wrongs and forgive me all my failures in this noble venture of our cherished freedom. My sons and daughters, please continue to hold on the torch of our freedom until we reach the promised land.”

U Than Khe, chairman of the All Burma Students Democratic Front, who lived in Manipur in the 1990s, praised SS Khaplang as “a great leader who kept his fight for the freedom of the Naga people to designate their own destiny and to have equal rights as other ethnicities in Burma until his last breath.”

U Than Khe recalled how students fleeing the 1988 uprising were treated well in the Naga-controlled region on the India-Burma border. “NSCN-K’s political path is different to other ethnics groups who want to build a federal state, but Naga wants their own land and thus, they separate themselves from following the NCA path.” he added.

The NSCN-K gave no notice of who would succeed SS Khaplang as leader of the group, but Indian media suggested the commander-in-chief Khole Konyak may be the next leader.