The SNA leaders say the group was founded In July 2009 on the India-Myanmar border, with its headquarters located on a mountain called Nwe Impha. Nwe means mountain and impha means stone mat in Shanni language.
The Shannis are a sub-group of the great Shan nationality which pushed westward before being overwhelmed by Kachins and Burmese.
The armed group now has bases in Hkamti, Homalin and Tamu in Sagaing region and in Mohnyin, Mogaung, Waingmaw, Hpakant and other parts of Kachin state.
It claims to have three brigades – 891, 972 and 753 – and over 1,000 troops. The SNA, led by Sao Meim Liam and Sao Khun Aung, has five objectives – to gain statehood, to fight against drugs, to establish a genuine federal union, to build unity among all the Shan sub-groups, to develop the Shanni region, and to conserve ecological balance.
“Though we are not in Shan state, we are a Shan tribe. We live in Kachin state and Sagaing region, so we are not consolidated. The Kachin say we are a vassal of the Bamar, and Myanmar government troops say we are the Kachin armed groups’ informants. We formed the SNA to claim the fundamental rights of our Shanni people,” commander of Brigade 891 lieutenant colonel Sai Aung Meim told the Irrawaddy journal recently.
Shanni people have had their own monarchs like Mohnyin Saopha Sao Long, Wuntho Saopha Sao Aung Myat and Hkanti Long (Putao) Saopha.
After Myanmar fell under British rule in 1886, Wuntho Saopha Sao Aung Myat fought back against the British forces, but was eventually defeated.
The Shanni people controlled Myitkyina, Mohnyin and Bhamo districts in today’s Kachin state, and Kalay, Hkamti, Mawlaik, Katha and Tamu districts in today’s Sagaing region, SNA leaders claim.
It is not clear what kind of relationship the SNA proposes to have with the Kachin Independence Army or the NSCN-K or other northeastern rebel groups like the ULFA.
As far as India is concerned, they would expect some kind of recognition from New Delhi for their statehood aspirations which obviously is difficult to realise.