Naga Move to Expand Self-Administered Zone

By Hnin Yadanar Zaw 2 December 2014

RANGOON — Ethnic Naga leaders will attempt to absorb two more townships into the minority group’s self-administered zone, deciding to undertake the expansion push at a three-day conference in Khamti, Sagaing Division.

Like the current self-administered zone, Khamti and Homemalin townships are home to significant ethnic Naga populations. According to historical records presented by researchers at the conference, those two townships were included in the former Naga Hills District, which was renamed by Gen. Ne Win’s Burma Socialist Programme Party government in the late 1970s.

The Naga Self-Administered Zone is delineated in the 2008 Constitution, grouping Leshi, Lahe and Namyun townships in Sagaing Division.

“The three townships currently in the self-administrated zone were grouped by the government through the 2008 Constitution. It was formed just because we have enough population to be,” said Shu Maung, secretary of the Naga Conference Working Committee, who claimed that Khamti and Homemalin townships were not included in the initial delineation because the three other townships had reached a minimum threshold to qualify for self-administered status.

Burma’s Constitution lays out a lengthy procedure for redrawing territorial boundaries. A referendum must first win the approval of more than 50 percent of those residing within the concerned area. The next step would see the proposal go before the Sagaing Division representatives in the Union Parliament for a vote.

At the conference, which concluded on Sunday, participants also decided to establish a Naga National Affairs Council that will include 49 members from all over the Naga region in northwestern Burma. The council will take the lead in the campaign to expand the Naga Self-Administered Zone.

The legacy of more than five decades of centralization and top-down governance had created a “huge barrier” to progress in achieving a functional autonomous government, according to Ro San Kyu, the head of the Naga Self-Administered Zone

“The Union government is still exerting influence on us a lot. We started using a bottom-up approach only recently [in 2008]. How can such a change be made in just a few years?” he said. “But we are trying.”

The 2008 Constitution establishes a Union government comprised of 14 state and divisional governments. Seven of these are nominally for the country’s major ethnic minority groups: Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon, Arakan and Shan.

Currently, there are five self-administered zones and one self-administered division.

The Naga Self-Administered Zone’s official name was announced by decree on Aug. 20, 2010. Its administrative seat is the town of Lahe.