The United Wa State Army (UWSA) will send a delegation to Naypyidaw on 1 March in the lead-up to the nationwide census, set to begin in March.
The UWSA, an ethnic armed group based in self-administered Shan State Special Region 2, will be sending representatives to Burma’s capital for the first time in five years, said spokesperson Aung Myint.
“Currently, we have agreed to conduct the census in our territory and have made necessary preparations,” he said, adding that the UWSA will send a delegation of about 20 people, including seven or eight executive officials, to the conference, which is being initiated to coordinate census preparations in various parts of the country.
On 16 February, a group of government officials led by Deputy Immigration Minister Brig- Gen Win Myint travelled to UWSA headquarters in Pangkham (also known as Phangsang) for similar discussions.
While no accurate demographics exist as yet, Shan State Special Region 2 is thought to be home to about 450,000 people from around 14 distinct ethnic groups.
The UWSA recently announced that the census will be conducted early, beginning on 15 March, as opposed to the nationwide 30 March start date. Officials said that the head-start is meant to account for inexperienced enumerators and poor transportation.
Aung Myint said the process is expected to go smoothly, as the government will be sending trained personnel to assist their work.
China-border-based analyst Aung Kyaw Zaw said it would be difficult to work out the exact number of ethnic populations in the area because many Chinese nationals have crossed the border and begun settling in.
“The influx of Chinese nationals from across the border has increased tremendously since 1989,” he said, “and the Burmese government – in trying hard to stay on good terms with the Wa – is likely to just accept any list the Wa gives them, which means there won’t be accurate numbers for the ethnic populations.”
Burma is preparing to conduct its first nationwide census in three decades, though information from the last survey is highly contested. Criticisms of the upcoming census process have surfaced in recent weeks, as some worry that questions about ethnicity and religion could exacerbate existing tensions.
The country officially recognises 135 ethnicities, and has an estimated population of about 60 million people. The census is scheduled to begin on 30 March and will continue until 10 April this year.