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Demand for independent homeland bars Naga group from NCA

Naga boys climb a tree to collect cherry blossom in Yansi village, Sagaing Region, in the Naga Self-Administered Zone of Burma, on Dec. 24, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

NAYPYIDAW — A faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) will not be allowed to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) because of the ethnic Naga armed group’s core demand for an independent Naga homeland spanning either side of the Burma-India border, according to government spokesperson Zaw Htay.

Zaw Htay was speaking at the Union Peace Conference, taking place July 11-16 in the capital Naypyidaw. The conference, also known as “21st Century Panglong,” is one of a series convened by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to build consensus toward a peace accord that would end decades of conflict with an array of ethnic armed groups.

The NCA, conceived as a foundation stone for the peace process, was signed between the Burmese government and eight ethnic armed groups in 2015. They have since been joined by two other groups, but most of the more powerful groups remain outside of the agreement.

The NSCN-Khaplang, named after the factional leader S.S Khaplang, who broke ranks with other leaders in the Naga cross-border insurgency, signed a ceasefire with the Burmese government in 2012 and was allowed to open a liaison office in the town of Hkamti. Khaplang died of ill health last year in Burma.

Though NSCN-Khaplang’s headquarters are in northwestern Burma, close to the Indian border, its main engagements have been with the Indian Army and it has not fought with the Burma Army since 2012.

Responding to an NSCN-Khaplang ambush on Indian soldiers in 2015, the Indian government branded it a terrorist group and allegedly conducted cross-border raids on its camps, though the Indian government denied this. India accuses the group of using kidnapping and extortion to fund its activities.

The group’s demand for a sovereign Naga homeland, which they call Nagalim, incorporating areas of both India and Burma, marks it out from most other ethnic armed groups in Burma, which demand autonomy within Burma.

Like other groups that have not signed the NCA, the NSCN-Khaplang merely observed the just-concluded peace conference in Naypyidaw.

“We can’t agree to divide the country. It is difficult to negotiate with groups that hope for a separate country,” said Zaw Htay on Monday. Zaw Htay is also a member of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) secretariat, which organises peace talks.

However, Zaw Htay said the group itself was not prepared to sign the NCA.

Another member of the UPDJC secretariat, Hla Maung Shwe, said the NSCN-Khaplang could only join the NCA if they abandoned the idea of “separation.” Burma’s 2008 Constitution bars any attempt to secede from the Union.

About 2 million Naga people, who are predominantly Christian, live in mountainous terrain that spans the northeastern Indian states of Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, as well as Sagaing Region in northwestern Burma.

Burma’s Constitution outlines a Naga Self-Administered Zone comprising the townships of Lahe, Leshi and Nanyun in Sagaing Region, but this provides for minimal autonomy.

This story was originally published by Myanmar Now.