Burma, officially the Union of Myanmar is the largest country by geographical area in mainland Southeast Asia.
The country is bordered by the People's Republic of China on the northeast, Laos on the east, Thailand on the southeast, Bangladesh on the west, India on the northwest, the Bay of Bengal to the southwest with the Gulf of Martaban and Andaman Sea defining its southern periphery. One-third of Burma's total perimeter, 1,930 kilometers (1,199 mi), forms an uninterrupted coastline.
Burma's diverse population has played a major role in defining its politics, history and demographics in modern times, and the country continues to struggle to mend its ethnic tensions. Its political system remains under the tight control of the SPDC, the military-led government, led since 1992 by Senior General Than Shwe. The military has dominated government since General Ne Win led a coup in 1962 that toppled the civilian government of U Nu. The country's culture, heavily influenced by neighbours, is based on Theravada Buddhism intertwined with local elements.
On 18 June 1989, the Burmese military junta passed the "Adaptation of Expressions Law" that officially changed the English version of the country's name from Burma to Myanmar, and changed the English versions of many place names in the country along with it, such as its former capital city from Rangoon to Yangon (which represents its pronunciation more accurately in Burmese though not in Arakanese). This prompted one scholar to coin the term "Myanmarification" to refer to the top-down programme of political and cultural reform in the context of which the renaming was done. The action was strictly an executive act, not based on any statutory authority, and the government did not hold a national referendum to have the Burmese electorate ratify the name change. Within the Burmese language, Myanma is the written, literary name of the country, while Bama or Bamar (from which "Burma" derives) is the oral, colloquial name. In spoken Burmese, the distinction is less clear than the English transliteration suggests.
The renaming proved to be politically controversial on several grounds. Opposition groups continue to use the name "Burma", since they do not recognize the legitimacy of the ruling military government nor its authority to rename the country in English. Various non-Bamar ethnic groups choose to not recognize the name because the term Myanmah has historically been used as a label for the majority ethnic group rather than for the country.
Various world entities have chosen to accept or reject the name change. The United Nations accepts the name Myanmar, since the UN allows its members states to be known by any name they choose. However it has not been recognized by many Western governments such as the United States, Australia, Canada or the United Kingdom, which continue to use "Burma", while the European Union uses "Burma/Myanmar" as an alternative. China has not agreed to change its translations and continues to use 缅甸(miǎn diàn - "distant domain"). Japan uses the name Myanmar (ミャンマー) but calls the people Burmese (ビルマ人). France continues to use Birmanie, and most other countries continue to use their traditional translations.
Use of "Burma" and its adjective, "Burmese", remains common in the United States and Britain. Many news organizations, such as the BBC, The Financial Times, The Times, Voice of America, The Washington Post, USA Today, ITN, Sky News, Bangkok Post and others still use these forms. MSNBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and others use "Myanmar" as the country name and "Burmese" as the adjective. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation also refers to both names in their news articles.
The name "Myanmar" is derived from the local short-form name Myanma Naingngandaw, the name used by the regime currently in power in the country. While the etymology of the name is unclear, it has been used since the 13th Century primarily as a reference to the Myanma ethnic group. Until the mid-19th century, rulers in the region identified themselves with the areas that they ruled. For example, the 18th Century king, Alaungpaya alternately referred to himself as the ruler of Tampradipa and Thunaparanta, Ramanadesa, and Kamboza (all alternate names of places in the Irrawaddy Valley) in correspondence with the East India Company. The Court of Ava was the first to use this name to refer to its kingdom in the mid-19th Century, when its power was declining, when the kingdom was confined to the Irrawaddy Valley which was predominantly Myanma in character, and at a time when the Myanma ethnic identity first began to develop a political identity. In older English documents the usage was Bermah, and later Burmah, possibly from the Portuguese Birmania which is thought to be a corruption of the Indian word for Burma, Bama. Burma is known as Birmanie in French, Birmania in both Italian and Spanish, and Birmânia in Portuguese.
Confusion among English speakers on how to pronounce 'Myanmar' gives rise to pronunciations such as , , , and .
It is located between Chittagong Division of Bangladesh and Assam, Nagaland and Manipur of India to the northwest. It shares its longest borders with Tibet and Yunnan of China to the northeast for a total of 2,185 km (1,358 mi). It is bounded by Laos and Thailand to the southeast. Burma has 1,930 km (1,199 mi) of contiguous coastline along the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea to the southwest and the south, which forms one-third of its total perimeter.
In the north, the Hengduan Shan mountains form the border with China. Hkakabo Razi, located in Kachin State, at an elevation of 5,881 m (19,295 ft), is the highest point in Burma. Three mountain ranges, namely the Rakhine Yoma, the Bago Yoma, and the Shan Plateau exist within Burma, all of which run north-to-south from the Himalayas. The mountain chains divide Burma's three river systems, which are the Ayeyarwady, Salween (Thanlwin), and the Sittang rivers. The Ayeyarwady River, Burma's longest river, nearly 2,170 kilometres (1,348 mi) long, flows into the Gulf of Martaban. Fertile plains exist in the valleys between the mountain chains. The majority of Burma's population lives in the Ayeyarwady valley, which is situated between the Rakhine Yoma and the Shan Plateau.
Much of the country lies between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator. It lies in the monsoon region of Asia, with its coastal regions receiving over of rain annually. Annual rainfall in the delta region is approximately , while average annual rainfall in the Dry Zone, which is located in central Burma, is less than . Northern regions of the country are the coolest, with average temperatures of 21 °C (70 °F). Coastal and delta regions have mean temperatures of 32 °C (90 °F).
The country's slow economic growth has contributed to the preservation of much of its environment and ecosystems. Forests, including dense tropical growth and valuable teak in lower Burma, cover over 49% of the country. Other trees indigenous to the region include acacia, bamboo, ironwood, mangrove, michelia champaca coconut and betel palm, and rubber has been introduced. In the highlands of the north, oak, pine and various rhododendrons cover much of the land. The lands along the coast support all varieties of tropical fruits. In the Dry Zone, vegetation is sparse and stunted.
Typical jungle animals, particularly tigers and leopards, are common in Burma. In upper Burma, there are rhinoceros, wild buffalo, wild boars, deer, antelope and elephants, which are also tamed or bred in captivity for use as work animals, particularly in the lumber industry. Smaller mammals are also numerous, ranging from gibbons and monkeys to flying foxes and tapirs. The abundance of birds is notable with over 800 species, including parrots, peafowl, pheasants, crows, herons and paddybirds. Among reptile species there are crocodiles, geckos, cobras, Burmese pythons and turtles. Hundreds of species of freshwater fish are wide-ranging, plentiful and are very important food sources.
The Tibeto-Burman speaking Pyu arrived later in the 1st century BC, and established several city states – of which Sri Ksetra was the most powerful – in central Ayeyarwady valley. The Mon and Pyu kingdoms were an active overland trade route between India and China. The Pyu kingdoms entered a period of rapid decline in early 9th century AD when the powerful kingdom of Nanzhao (in present-day Yunnan) invaded Ayeyarwady valley several times. In 835, Nanzhao decimated the Pyu by carrying off many captives to be used as conscripts.
After Anawrahta's capture of the Mon capital of Thaton in 1057, the Burmans adopted Theravada Buddhism from the Mons. The Burmese script was created, based on the Mon script, during the reign of King Kyanzittha (1084-1112). Prosperous from trade, Bagan kings built many magnificent temples and pagodas throughout the country – many of which can still be seen today.
Bagan's power slowly waned in 13th century. Kublai Khan's Mongol forces invaded northern Burma starting in 1277, and sacked Bagan city itself in 1287. Bagan's over two century reign of Ayeyarwady valley and its periphery was over.
The Bagan empire was irreparably broken up into several small kingdoms:
This period was characterized by constant warfare between Ava and Bago, and to a lesser extent, Ava and the Shans. Ava briefly controlled Rakhine (1379-1430) and came close to defeating Bago a few times, but could never quite reassemble the lost empire. Nevertheless, Burmese culture entered a golden age. Hanthawady Bago prospered. Bago's Queen Shin Saw Bu (1453-1472) raised the gilded Shwedagon Pagoda to its present height.
By the late 15th century, constant warfare had left Ava greatly weakened. Its peripheral areas became either independent or autonomous. In 1486, King Minkyinyo (1486-1531) of Taungoo broke away from Ava and established a small independent kingdom. In 1527, Mohnyin (Shan: Mong Yang) Shans finally captured Ava, upsetting the delicate power balance that had existed for nearly two centuries. The Shans would rule Upper Burma until 1555.
Bayinnaung's massive empire unraveled soon after his death in 1581. Ayutthaya Siamese had driven out the Burmese by 1593 and went on to take Tanintharyi. In 1599, Rakhine forces aided by the Portuguese mercenaries sacked the kingdom's capital Bago. Chief Portuguese mercenary Filipe de Brito e Nicote (Burmese: Nga Zinga) promptly rebelled against his Rakhine masters and established Portuguese rule in Thanlyin (Syriam), then the most important seaport in Burma. The country was in chaos.
The Burmese under King Anaukpetlun (1605-1628) regrouped and defeated the Portuguese in 1611. Anaukpetlun reestablished a smaller reconstituted kingdom based in Ava covering Upper Burma, Lower Burma and Shan states (but without Rakhine or Taninthayi). After the reign of King Thalun (1629-1648), who rebuilt the war-torn country, the kingdom experienced a slow and steady decline for the next 100 years. The Mons successfully rebelled starting in 1740 with French help and Siamese encouragement, broke away Lower Burma by 1747, and finally put an end to the House of Taungoo in 1752 when they took Ava.
King Alaungpaya (1752-1760), established the Konbaung Dynasty in Shwebo in 1752. He founded Yangon in 1755. By his death in 1760, Alaungpaya had reunified the country. In 1767, King Hsinbyushin (1763-1777) sacked Ayutthya. The Qing Dynasty of China invaded four times from 1765 to 1769 without success. The Chinese invasions allowed the new Siamese kingdom based in Bangkok to repel the Burmese out of Siam by the late 1770s.
King Bodawpaya (1782-1819) failed repeatedly to reconquer Siam in 1780s and 1790s. Bodawpaya did manage to capture the western kingdom of Rakhine, which had been largely independent since the fall of Bagan, in 1784. Bodawpaya also formally annexed Manipur, a rebellion-prone protectorate, in 1813.
King Bagyidaw's (1819-1837) general Maha Bandula put down a rebellion in Manipur in 1819 and captured then independent kingdom of Assam in 1819 (again in 1821). The new conquests brought the Burmese adjacent to the British India. The British defeated the Burmese in the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826). Burma had to cede Assam, Manipur, Rakhine (Arakan) and Tanintharyi (Tenessarim).
In 1852, the British attacked a much weakened Burma during a Burmese palace power struggle. After the Second Anglo-Burmese War, which lasted 3 months, the British had captured the remaining coastal provinces: Ayeyarwady, Yangon and Bago, naming the territories as Lower Burma.
King Mindon (1853-1878) founded Mandalay in 1859 and made it his capital. He skillfully navigated the growing threats posed by the competing interests of Britain and France. In the process, Mindon had to renounce Kayah (Karenni) states in 1875. His successor, King Thibaw (1878-1885), was largely ineffectual. In 1885, the British, alarmed by the French conquest of neighboring Laos, occupied Upper Burma. The Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885) lasted a mere one month insofar as capturing the capital Mandalay was concerned. The Burmese royal family was exiled to Ratnagiri, India. British forces spent at least another four years pacifying the country – not only in the Burman heartland but also in the Shan, Chin and Kachin hill areas. By some accounts, minor insurrections did not end until 1896.
Eric Blair, better known as the writer George Orwell, served in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma for five years and wrote about his experiences. An earlier writer with the same convoluted career path was Saki. During the colonial period, intermarriage between European settlers and Burmese women, as well as between Anglo-Indians (who arrived with the British) and Burmese caused the birth of the Anglo-Burmese community. This influential community was to dominate the country during colonial rule and through the mid 1960's.
On 1 April 1937, Burma became a separately administered territory, independent of the Indian administration. The vote for keeping Burma in India, or as a separate colony "khwe-yay-twe-yay" divided the populace, and laid the ground work for the insurgencies to come after independence. In the 1940s, the Thirty Comrades, commanded by Aung San, founded the Burma Independence Army. The Thirty Comrades received training in Japan.
During World War II, Burma became a major frontline in the Southeast Asian Theatre. The British administration collapsed ahead of the advancing Japanese troops, jails and asylums were opened and Rangoon was deserted except for the many Anglo-Burmese and Indians who remained at their posts. A stream of some 300,000 refugees fled across the jungles into India; known as 'The Trek', all but 30,000 of those 300,000 arrived in India. Initially the Japanese-led Burma Campaign succeeded and the British were expelled from most of Burma, but the British counter-attacked using primarily troops of the British Indian Army. By July 1945, the British had retaken the country. Although many Burmese fought initially for the Japanese, some Burmese, mostly from the ethnic minorities, also served in the British Burma Army. In 1943, the Chin Levies and Kachin Levies were formed in the border districts of Burma still under British administration. The Burma Rifles fought as part of the Chindits under General Orde Wingate from 1943-1945. Later in the war, the Americans created American-Kachin Rangers who also fought against the Japanese. Many others fought with the British Special Operations Executive. The Burma Independence Army under the command of Aung San and the Arakan National Army fought with the Japanese from 1942-1944, but switched allegiance to the Allied side in 1945.
In 1947, Aung San became Deputy Chairman of the Executive Council of Burma, a transitional government. But in July 1947, political rivals assassinated Aung San and several cabinet members.
The geographical area Burma encompasses today can be traced to the Panglong Agreement, which combined Burma Proper, which consisted of Lower Burma and Upper Burma, and the Frontier Areas, which had been administered separately by the British.
In 1961, U Thant, then the Union of Burma's Permanent Representative to the United Nations and former Secretary to the Prime Minister, was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations; he was the first non-Westerner to head any international organization and would serve as UN Secretary-General for ten years. Among the Burmese to work at the UN when he was Secretary-General was a young Aung San Suu Kyi.
Almost from the beginning there were sporadic protests against the military rule, many of which were organized by students, and these were almost always violently suppressed by the government. On July 7, 1962 the government broke up demonstrations at Rangoon University killing 15 students. In 1974, the military violently suppressed anti-government protests at the funeral of U Thant. Student protests in 1975, 1976 and 1977 were quickly suppressed by overwhelming force.
In 1988, unrest over economic mismanagement and political oppression by the government led to widespread pro-democracy demonstrations throughout the country known as the 8888 Uprising. Security forces killed thousands of demonstrators, and General Saw Maung staged a coup d'état and formed the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). In 1989, SLORC declared martial law after widespread protests. The military government finalized plans for People's Assembly elections on 31 May 1989.
SLORC changed the country's official English name from the "Union of Burma" to the "Union of Myanmar" in 1989. This continues to be a topic of confusion for many people since some of the mainstream media, such as Reuters and the New York Times refer to the nation as Myanmar while agencies such as the BBC refer to it as Burma. In most cases the nation is called Burma to make a political statement. By not acknowledging the name Myanmar, one refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of the military junta as well. This is not just among human rights groups but many governments such as Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and France, legally refer to the nation as Burma. Some suggest the point made by advocates of democracy is irrelevant anyway, since the name Burma was given to the country by the colonial British. Also, since the founding of the first democratic government, the name Myanmar appeared on the nation's currency.
In May 1990, the government held free elections for the first time in almost 30 years. The National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, won 392 out of a total 489 seats, but the election results were annulled by SLORC, which refused to step down. Led by Than Shwe since 1992, the military regime has made cease-fire agreements with most ethnic guerrilla groups. In 1992, SLORC unveiled plans to create a new constitution through the National Convention, which began 9 January 1993. In 1997, the State Law and Order Restoration Council was renamed the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).
On 23 June 1997, Burma was admitted into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The National Convention continues to convene and adjourn. Many major political parties, particularly the NLD, have been absent or excluded, and little progress has been made. On 27 March 2006, the military junta, which had moved the national capital from Yangon to a site near Pyinmana in November 2005, officially named it Naypyidaw, meaning "city of the kings".
In November 2006, the International Labour Organization (ILO) announced it will be seeking - at the International Court of Justice. - "to prosecute members of the ruling Myanmar junta for crimes against humanity" over the continuous forced labour of its citizens by the military. According to the ILO, an estimated 800,000 people are subject to forced labour in Myanmar.
On 19 September 2007, several hundred (possibly 2000 or more) monks staged a protest march in the city of Sittwe. Larger protests in Rangoon and elsewhere ensued over the following days. Security became increasingly heavy handed, resulting in a number of deaths and injuries. By 28 September, internet access had been cut and journalists were reputedly warned not to report on protests. Internet access was restored by at least midnight of 5 October, Burmese time. Sources in Myanmar said on 6 October that the internet seems to be working from 22:00 to 05:00 local time.
On October 13, 2007, the military junta of Burma made people march in a government rally, reportedly paying some participants 1000 kyat (approximately $0.80) each. Junta officials also approached local factories and demanded they provide 50 workers each; if they didn't, they were to be fined.
On 7 February 2008, SPDC announced that a referendum for the Constitution would be held, and Elections by 2010. The Burmese constitutional referendum, 2008 was held on May 10 and promised a "discipline-flourishing democracy" for the country in the future.
Various global corporations have been criticized for profiting from the dictatorship by financing Burma's military junta.
World governments remain divided on how to deal with the military junta. Calls for further sanctions by Canada, United Kingdom, United States, and France are opposed by neighboring countries; in particular, China has stated its belief that "sanctions or pressure will not help to solve the issue".
Recent reports estimate that more than 130,000 people are dead or missing from Cyclone Nargis that hit the country's Irrawaddy delta. Damage totaled to 10 billion dollars (USD); it was the worst natural disaster in Burmese history. Shari Villarosa, who leads the U.S. Embassy in Yangon, said the number of dead could eventually exceed 140,800 because of illnesses and injury. Adds the World Food Programme, "Some villages have been almost totally eradicated and vast rice-growing areas are wiped out.
The United Nations projects that as many as 1 million were left homeless; and the World Health Organization "has received reports of malaria outbreaks in the worst-affected area." Yet in the critical days following this disaster, Burma's isolationist regime complicated recovery efforts by delaying the entry of United Nations planes delivering medicine, food, and other supplies into the Southeast Asian nation. Similarly, the junta continues to reject the United States offer to provide much-needed assistance, although on May 13, the first U.S. military transport plane was allowed to land, bringing 14 tons of medical supplies, mosquito nets and blankets. The government's failure to permit entry for large-scale international relief efforts was described by the United Nations as "unprecedented. The Burmese Foreign Ministry stressed its capability in handling the aftermath of the cyclone and insisted that it was not ready to accept large-scale foreign assistance.
AP news stories state that foreign aid provided to disaster victims was modified to make it look like it came from the military regime, and state-run television continuously ran images of Gen. Than Shwe ceremonially handing out disaster relief.
More than a week after the disaster, only one out of 10 people who were homeless, injured or threatened by disease and hunger had received some kind of aid. The governmental regime only began to allow UN/international aid into the country for relief efforts after a meeting of heads of States in Singapore, headed by Singapore, who is the current chair of the ASEAN group.
According to British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, "A natural disaster is turning into a humanitarian catastrophe of genuinely epic proportions in significant part because of the malign neglect of the regime.
Donor nations, meeting in Burma, pressed the government to hold to its promise and allow foreign aid workers access to several communities in which foreigners are not allowed, thus increasing the rate of receipt of aid to millions who where most affected by the cyclone. The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki Moon, said that the government was "moving fast in the right direction." By opening greater access to foreign aid, this will help the nation avoid a "second disaster" of disease.
On May 27, 2008, to complicate world opinion and in contrast to numerous and varied accounts from international relief organizations, the Burma junta praised U.N. aid.
Elected delegates in the 1990 People's Assembly election formed the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), a government-in-exile since December 1990, with the mission of restoring democracy. Dr. Sein Win, a first cousin of Aung San Suu Kyi, has held the position of prime minister of the NCGUB since its inception. The NCGUB has been outlawed by the military government.
Major political parties in the country are the National League for Democracy and the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, although their activities are heavily regulated and suppressed by the military government. Many other parties, often representing ethnic minorities, exist. The military government allows little room for political organizations and has outlawed many political parties and underground student organizations. The military supported the National Unity Party in the 1990 elections and, more recently, an organization named the Union Solidarity and Development Association.
Several human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science have reported on human rights abuses by the military government. They have claimed that there is no independent judiciary in Burma. The military government restricts Internet access through software-based censorship that limits the material citizens can access on-line. Forced labour, human trafficking, and child labour are common. The military is also notorious for rampant use of sexual violence as an instrument of control, including systematic rapes and taking of sex slaves as porters for the military. A strong women's pro-democracy movement has formed in exile, largely along the Thai border and in Chiang Mai. There is a growing international movement to defend women's human rights issues.
In 1988, the army violently repressed protests against economic mismanagement and political oppression. On 8 August 1988, the military opened fire on demonstrators in what is known as 8888 Uprising and imposed martial law. However, the 1988 protests paved way for the 1990 People's Assembly elections. The election results were subsequently annulled by Senior General Saw Maung's government. The National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won over 60% of the vote and over 80% of parliamentary seats in the 1990 election, the first held in 30 years. The military-backed National Unity Party won less than 2% of the seats. Aung San Suu Kyi has earned international recognition as an activist for the return of democratic rule, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. The ruling regime has repeatedly placed her under house arrest. Despite a direct appeal by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to Senior General Than Shwe and pressure by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the military junta extended Aung San Suu Kyi's house arrest another year on 27 May 2006 under the 1975 State Protection Act, which grants the government the right to detain any persons on the grounds of protecting peace and stability in the country. The junta faces increasing pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom. Burma's situation was referred to the UN Security Council for the first time in December 2005 for an informal consultation. In September 2006, ten of the United Nations Security Council's 15 members voted to place Myanmar on the council's formal agenda. On Independence Day, 4 January 2007, the government released 40 political prisoners, under a general amnesty, in which 2,831 prisoners were released. On 8 January 2007, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the national government to free all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi. Three days later, on 11 January, five additional prisoners were released from prison.
ASEAN has also stated its frustration with the Union of Myanmar's government. It has formed the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus to address the lack of democratisation in the country. Dramatic change in the country's political situation remains unlikely, due to support from major regional powers such as India, Russia, and, in particular, China.
In the annual ASEAN Summit in January 2007, held in Cebu, Philippines, member countries failed to find common ground on the issue of Burma's lack of political reform. During the summit, ASEAN foreign ministers asked Burma to make greater progress on its roadmap toward democracy and national reconciliation. Some member countries contend that Burma's human rights issues are the country's own domestic affairs, while others contend that its poor human rights record is an international issue.
According to Human Rights Defenders and Promoters (HRDP), on April 18, 2007, several of its members (Myint Aye, Maung Maung Lay, Tin Maung Oo and Yin Kyi) were met by approximately a hundred people led by a local official, U Nyunt Oo, and beaten up. Due to the attack, Myint Hlaing and Maung Maung Lay were badly injured and subsequently hospitalized. The HRDP believes that this attack was condoned by the authorities and vows to take legal action. Human Rights Defenders and Promoters was formed in 2002 to raise awareness among the people of Burma about their human rights.
Burma's army-drafted constitution was overwhelmingly approved (by 92.4% of the 22 million voters with alleged voter turnout of 99%) on May 10 in the first phase of a two-stage referendum amid Cyclone Nargis. It was the first national vote since the 1990 election. Multi-party elections in 2010 would end 5 decades of military rule, as the new charter gives the military an automatic 25% of seats in parliament. NLD spokesman Nyan Win, inter alia, criticized the referendum: "This referendum was full of cheating and fraud across the country; In some villages, authorities and polling station officials ticked the ballots themselves and did not let the voters do anything. The constitution would bar Aung San Suu Kyi, from public office. 5 million citizens will vote May 24 in Yangon and the Irrawaddy delta, worst hit by Cyclone Nargis.
The country is divided into seven states (pyine) and seven divisions (yin). Divisions are predominantly Bamar. States in essence, are divisions which are home to particular ethnic minorities. The administrative divisions are further subdivided into districts, which are further subdivided into townships, wards, and villages.
Despite Western isolation, Asian corporations have generally remained willing to continue investing in the country and to initiate new investments, particularly in natural resource extraction. The country has close relations with neighboring India and China with several Indian and Chinese companies operating in the country. There remains active debate as to the extent to which the American-led sanctions have had adverse effects on the civilian population or on the military rulers. Burma has also received extensive military aid from India and China in the past. According to some estimates, Burma has received more than US$200 million in military aid from India. Under India's Look East policy, fields of cooperation between India and Burma include remote sensing, oil and gas exploration, information technology, hydro power and construction of ports and buildings. In 2008, India suspended military aid to Burma over the issue of human rights abuses by the ruling junta.
The country's armed forces are known as the Tatmadaw, which numbers 488,000. The Tatmadaw comprises the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. The country ranked twelfth in the world for its number of active troops in service. The military is very influential in the country, with top cabinet and ministry posts held by military officers. Official figures for military spending are not available. Estimates vary widely because of uncertain exchange rates, but military spending is very high. The country imports most of its weapons from Russia, Ukraine, China and India.
The country is building a research nuclear reactor near May Myo (Pyin Oo Lwin) with help from Russia. It is one of the signatories of the nuclear non-proliferation pact since 1992 and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since 1957. The military junta had informed the IAEA in September 2000 of its intention to construct the reactor. The research reactor outbuilding frame was built by ELE steel industries limited of Yangon and water from Anisakhan/BE water fall will be used for the reactor cavity cooling system.
ASEAN will not defend the country in any international forum following the military regime's refusal to restore democracy. In April 2007, the Malaysian Foreign Ministry parliamentary secretary Ahmad Shabery Cheek said Malaysia and other ASEAN members had decided not to defend Burma if the country's issue was raised for discussion at any international conference. "Now Myanmar has to defend itself if it is bombarded in any international forum," he said when winding up a debate at committee stage for the Foreign Ministry. He was replying to queries from opposition leader Lim Kit Siang on the next course of action to be taken by Malaysia and ASEAN with the military junta. Lim had said Malaysia must play a proactive role in pursuing regional initiatives to bring about a change in Burma and support efforts to bring the situation in Burma to the UN Security Council's attention.
In 1996 the United States Embassy in Rangoon released a "Country Commercial Guide", which states "Exports of opiates alone appear to be worth about as much as all legal exports." It goes on to say that investments in infrastructure and hotels are coming from major opiate-growing and opiate-exporting organizations and from those with close ties to these organizations.
A four-year investigation concluded that Burma's national company Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) was "the main channel for laundering the revenues of heroin produced and exported under the control of the Burmese army." In a business deal signed with the French oil giant Total in 1992, and later joined by Unocal, MOGE received a payment of $15 million. "Despite the fact that MOGE has no assets besides the limited installments of its foreign partners and makes no profit, and that the Burmese state never had the capacity to allocate any currency credit to MOGE, the Singapore bank accounts of this company have seen the transfer of hundreds of millions of US dollars," reports Casanier. According to a confidential MOGE file reviewed by the investigators, funds exceeding $60 million and originating from Burma's most renowned drug lord, Khun Sa, were channeled through the company. "Drug money is irrigating every economic activity in Burma, and big foreign partners are also seen by the SLORC as big shields for money laundering." Banks in Rangoon offered money laundering for a 40% commission.
The main player in the country's drug market is the United Wa State Army, ethnic fighters who control areas along the country's eastern border with Thailand, part of the infamous Golden Triangle. The Wa army, an ally of Burma's ruling military junta, was once the militant arm of the Beijing-backed Burmese Communist Party. Burma has been a significant cog in the transnational drug trade since World War II.
Poppy cultivation in the country decreased more than 80 percent from 1998 to 2006 following an eradication campaign in the Golden Triangle. Officials with the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime say opium poppy farming is now expanding. The number of hectares used to grow the crops in has bounced back 29 percent this year. A United Nations report cites corruption, poverty and a lack of government control as causes for the jump.
Until 2005, the United Nations General Assembly annually adopted a detailed resolution about the situation in Burma by consensus. But in 2006 a divided United Nations General Assembly voted through a resolution that strongly called upon the government of Burma to end its systematic violations of human rights.
In January 2007, Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution before the United Nations Security Council calling on the government of Myanmar to respect human rights and begin a democratic transition. South Africa also voted against the resolution, arguing that since there were no peace and security concerns raised by its neighbours, the question did not belong in the Security Council when there were other more appropriate bodies to represent it, adding, "Ironically, should the Security Council adopt [this resolution] ... the Human Rights Council would not be able to address the situation in Myanmar while the Council remains seized with the matter. The issue had been forced onto the agenda against the votes of Russia and the China by the United States (veto power applies only to resolutions) claiming that the outflow from Burma of refugees, drugs, HIV-AIDS, and other diseases threatened international peace and security.
The following September after the uprisings began and the human rights situation deteriorated, the Secretary-General dispatched his special envoy for the region, Ibrahim Gambari, to meet with the government. After seeing most parties involved, he returned to New York and briefed the Security Council about his visit. During this meeting, the ambassador said that the country "indeed [has experienced] a daunting challenge. However, we have been able to restore stability. The situation has now returned to normalcy. Currently, people all over the country are holding peaceful rallies within the bounds of the law to welcome the successful conclusion of the national convention, which has laid down the fundamental principles for a new constitution, and to demonstrate their aversion to recent provocative demonstrations.
On 11 October the Security Council met and issued a statement and reaffirmed its "strong and unwavering support for the Secretary-General's good offices mission", especially the work by Ibrahim Gambari (During a briefing to the Security Council in November, Gambari admitted that no timeframe had been set by the Government for any of the moves that he had been negotiating for.)
In a landmark legal case, some human rights groups have sued the Unocal corporation, previously known as Union Oil of California and now part of the Chevron Corporation. They charge that since the early 1990s, Unocal has joined hands with dictators in Burma to turn thousands of citizens there into virtual slaves under brutality. Unocal, before being purchased, stated that they had no knowledge or connection to these alleged actions although it continued working in Burma. This was a landmark case as this might be the first time that anybody has sued an American corporation in a U.S. court on the grounds that the company violated human rights in another country.
The country is one of the poorest nations in southeastern Asia, suffering from decades of stagnation, mismanagement and isolation. Burma's GDP grows at an average rate of 2.9% annually – the lowest rate of economic growth in the Greater Mekong Subregion.
Under British administration and until the early 1960s, Burma was the wealthiest country in Southeast Asia. It was once the world's largest exporter of rice. During British administration, Burma supplied oil through the Burmah Oil Company. Burma also had a wealth of natural and labor resources. It produced 75% of the world's teak and had a highly literate population. The country was believed to be on the fast track to development.
After a parliamentary government was formed in 1948, Prime Minister U Nu attempted to make Burma a welfare state. His administration adopted the Two-Year Economic Development Plan, which was a failure. The 1962 coup d'état was followed by an economic scheme called the Burmese Way to Socialism, a plan to nationalize all industries, with the exception of agriculture. In 1989, the government began decentralizing economic control. It has since liberalised certain sectors of the economy. Lucrative industries of gems, oil and forestry remain heavily regulated. They have recently been exploited by foreign corporations and governments which have partnered with the local government to gain access to Burma's natural resources.
Burma was designated a least developed country in 1987. Private enterprises are often co-owned or indirectly owned by the Tatmadaw. In recent years, both China and India have attempted to strengthen ties with the government for economic benefit. Many nations, including the United States and Canada, and the European Union, have imposed investment and trade sanctions on Burma. Foreign investment comes primarily from China, Singapore, South Korea, India, and Thailand.
The major agricultural product is rice which covers about 60% of the country's total cultivated land area. Rice accounts for 97% of total food grain production by weight. Through collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), 52 modern rice varieties were released in the country between 1966 and 1997, helping increase national rice production to 14 million tons in 1987 and to 19 million tons in 1996. By 1988, modern varieties were planted on half of the country's ricelands, including 98 percent of the irrigated areas.
The lack of an educated workforce skilled in modern technology contributes to the growing problems of the economy.
Inflation is a serious problem for the economy. In April 2007, the National League for Democracy organized a two-day workshop on the economy. The workshop concluded that skyrocketing inflation was impeding economic growth. "Basic commodity prices have increased from 30 to 60 percent since the military regime promoted a salary increase for government workers in April 2006," said Soe Win, the moderator of the workshop. "Inflation is also correlated with corruption." Myint Thein, an NLD spokesperson, added: "Inflation is the critical source of the current economic crisis. The corruption watchdog organization Transparency International in its 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index released on September 26, 2007 ranked Burma the most corrupt country in the world, tied with Somalia.
Aung San Suu Kyi has requested that international tourists not visit Burma. The junta's forced labour programmes were focused around tourist destinations which have been heavily criticised for their human rights records.
Tourism has been promoted by a minority of advocacy groups as a method of providing economic benefit to Burmese civilians, and to avoid isolating the country from the rest of the world. "We believe that small-scale, responsible tourism can create more benefits than harm. So long as tourists are fully aware of the situation and take steps to maximise their positive impact and minimise the negatives, we feel their visit can be beneficial overall. Responsible tourists can help Burma primarily by bringing money to local communities and small businesses, and by raising awareness of the situation worldwide," states Voices for Burma, a pro-democracy advocate group.
The military government stated its intention to crack down on these human rights activists, according to an April 23, 2007, report in the country's official press. The announcement, which comprised a full page of the official newspaper, followed calls by human rights advocacy groups, including London-based Amnesty International, for authorities to investigate recent violent attacks on rights activists in the country.
Many people still believe that Buddhist monks still dominate the land in Burma. However the humanitarian issues that arose in the 1950s have eased off and its now understood that there are more female monks than male.
With the growth of other religions in the country, tourism has picked up too. Tourism has been promoted by a minority of advocacy groups as a method of providing economic benefit to Burmese civilians, and to avoid isolating the country from the rest of the world. "We believe that small-scale, responsible tourism can create more benefits than harm. So long as tourists are fully aware of the situation and take steps to maximise their positive impact and minimise the negatives, we feel their visit can be beneficial overall. Responsible tourists can help Burma primarily by bringing money to local communities and small businesses, and by raising awareness of the situation worldwide," states Voices for Burma, a pro-democracy advocate group.
The reported trouble between most religions has set to slide after several hundred (possibly 2000 or more) monks staged a 2007 Burmese anti-government protest march in the city of Sittwe.
Two members of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters, Maung Maung Lay, 37, and Myint Naing, 40, were hospitalized with head injuries following attacks by more than 50 people while the two were working in Hinthada township, Irrawaddy Division in mid-April. On Sunday, April 22, 2007, eight people were arrested by plainclothes police, members of the pro-junta Union Solidarity and Development Association, and the Pyithu Swan Arr Shin (a paramilitary group) while demonstrating peacefully in a Rangoon suburb. The eight protesters were calling for lower commodity prices, better health-care and improved utility services. Htin Kyaw, 44, one of the eight who also took part in an earlier demonstration in late February in downtown Yangon, was beaten by a mob, according to sources at the scene of the protest.
Reports from opposition activists have emerged in recent weeks saying that authorities have directed the police and other government proxy groups to deal harshly with any sign of unrest in Yangon. "This proves that there is no rule of law [in Burma]," the 88 Generation Students group said in a statement issued today.[Mon 23 April 2007] "We seriously urge the authorities to prevent violence in the future and to guarantee the safety of every citizen.
As of 22 September 2007, the Buddhist monks have withdrawn spiritual services from all military personnel in a symbolic move that is seen as very powerful in such a deeply religious country as Burma. The military rulers seem at a loss as to how to deal with the demonstrations by the monks as using violence against monks would incense and enrage the people of Burma even further, almost certainly prompting massive civil unrest and perhaps violence. However, the longer the junta allows the protests to continue, the weaker the regime looks. The danger is that eventually the military government will be forced to act rashly and doing so will provoke the citizenry even more. Some international news agencies are referring to the uprising as a Saffron Revolution.
On September 25, 2,000 people defied threats from the Union of Myanmar's junta and marched to Shwedagon Pagoda amid army trucks and warning of Brigadier-General Thura Myint Maung not to violate Buddhist "rules and regulations. The following morning, various prominent protesters were arrested and troops barricaded Shwedagon Pagoda and attacked the 700 people within. Despite this, 5,000 monks continued to protest in Yangon. At least four deaths were reported after security forces fired on the crowds in Yangon. The junta announced that ten people had died in the crackdown on 27 September 2007 but foreign diplomatic sources in Yangon said more than ten Buddhist monks and demonstrators were dead. Later a badly-beaten Buddhist monk's body was found in Yangon River. A photo was released on an Internet site run by a Norway-based group of exiled journalists. On September 27, security forces began raiding monasteries and arresting monks throughout the country. The security forces also fired on the nearly 50,000 people protesting in Yangon, killing nine people.
Internet access within the nation has been suspended, reportedly in an attempt to dampen international awareness of the situation. It has also been reported that troops have been specifically targeting people with cameras. The junta's violent response to peaceful protests has prompted international condemnation and calls for an immediate halt to the violence. In particular, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has demanded an explanation for the killing of Kenji Nagai. Ibrahim Gambari, the United Nations special envoy to Burma, has arrived in Naypyidaw and has met with junta leaders and Aung San Suu Kyi. Despite increasingly strong calls for peace, the junta continued to attack monks and raid monasteries through October 1.
By October 2, 2007, thousands of monks were unaccounted for and their whereabouts unknown. Many monasteries are being patrolled by government troops. There are eyewitness accounts of injured protesters being burned alive by the military regime in a crematorium on the outskirts of Rangoon.
On October 31, 2007 the monks started to protest again. 200 monks marched in Pakokku.
On November 29, 2007 the Junta has shut down a Yangon monastery which served as a hospice for HIV/AIDS patients.
The Burmese state media says that all but 91 of the nearly 3,000 arrested in the crackdown were released. The United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari criticised the closing of the monastery, yet was assured that the crackdown would stop. He expects to return to Burma in December.
Burma has a population of about 55 million. Current population figures are rough estimates because the last partial census, conducted by the Ministry of Home and Religious Affairs under the control of the military junta, was taken in 1983. No trustworthy nationwide census has been taken in Burma since 1931. There are over 600,000 registered migrant workers from Burma in Thailand, and millions more work illegally. Burmese migrant workers account for 80% of Thailand's migrant workers. Burma has a population density of , one of the lowest in Southeast Asia. Refugee camps exist along Indian, Bangladeshi and Thai borders while several thousand are in Malaysia. Conservative estimates state that there are over 295,800 refugees from Burma, with the majority being Rohingya, Kayin, and Karenni.
Burma is home to four major linguistic families: Sino-Tibetan, Tai-Kadai, Austro-Asiatic, and Indo-European. Sino-Tibetan languages are most widely spoken. They include Burmese, Karen, Kachin, Chin, and Chinese. The primary Tai-Kadai language is Shan. Mon, Palaung, and Wa are the major Austroasiatic languages spoken in Burma. The two major Indo-European languages are Pali, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism, and English.
According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, Burma's official literacy rate as of 2000 was 89.9%. Historically, Burma has had high literacy rates. To qualify for least developed country status by the UN in order to receive debt relief, Burma lowered its official literacy rate from 78.6% to 18.7% in 1987.
Burma is ethnically diverse. The government recognizes 135 distinct ethnic groups. While it is extremely difficult to verify this statement, there are at least 108 different ethnolinguistic groups in Burma, consisting mainly of distinct Tibeto-Burman peoples, but with sizable populations of Daic, Hmong-Mien, and Austroasiatic (Mon-Khmer) peoples. The Bamar form an estimated 68% of the population. 10% of the population are Shan. The Kayin make up 7% of the population. The Rakhine people constitute 4% of the population. Overseas Chinese form approximately 3% of the population. Mon, who form 2% of the population, are ethno-linguistically related to the Khmer. Overseas Indians comprise 2%. The remainder are Kachin, Chin, Anglo-Indians and other ethnic minorities. Included in this group are the Anglo-Burmese. Once forming a large and influential community, the Anglo-Burmese left the country in steady streams from 1958 onwards, principally to Australia and the U.K.. Today, it is estimated that only 52,000 Anglo-Burmese remain in the country.
89% of the country's population are Buddhist, according to a report on abc World News Tonight in May 2008.
A diverse range of indigenous cultures exist in Burma, the majority culture is primarily Buddhist and Bamar. Bamar culture has been influenced by the cultures of neighbouring countries. This is manifested in its language, cuisine, music, dance and theatre. The arts, particularly literature, have historically been influenced by the local form of Theravada Buddhism. Considered the national epic of Burma, the Yama Zatdaw, an adaptation of Ramayana, has been influenced greatly by Thai, Mon, and Indian versions of the play. Buddhism is practiced along with nat worship which involves elaborate rituals to propitiate one from a pantheon of 37 nats.
In a traditional village, the monastery is the centre of cultural life. Monks are venerated and supported by the lay people. A novitiation ceremony called shinbyu is the most important coming of age events for a boy when he enters the monastery for a short period of time. All boys of Buddhist family need to be a novice (beginner for Buddhism) before the age of twenty and to be a monk after the age of twenty. It is compulsory for all boys of Buddhism. The duration can be as little as one week. Girls have ear-piercing ceremonies at the same time. Burmese culture is most evident in villages where local festivals are held throughout the year, the most important being the pagoda festival. Many villages have a guardian nat, and superstition and taboos are commonplace.
British colonial rule also introduced Western elements of culture to Burma. Burma's educational system is modelled after that of the United Kingdom. Colonial architectural influences are most evident in major cities such as Yangon. Many ethnic minorities, particularly the Karen in the southeast, and the Kachin and Chin who populate the north and northwest, practice Christianity.
Eighty-nine percent of the population embraces Buddhism (mostly Theravada), but other religions can be practiced freely. Four percent of the population practices Christianity; 4 percent, Islam; 1 percent, traditional animistic beliefs; and 2 percent follow other religions, including Mahayana Buddhism, Hinduism, Chinese religions and the Bahá'í religion. However, according to a U.S. State Department’s 2006 international religious freedom report, official statistics underestimate the non-Buddhist population which could be as high as 30%. Muslim leaders estimated that approximately 20 percent of the population was Muslim.
The educational system of Burma is operated by the government Ministry of Education. Universities and professional institutes from upper Burma and lower Burma are run by two separate entities, the Department of Higher Education of Upper Burma and the Department of Higher Education of Lower Burma. Headquarters are based in Yangon and Mandalay respectively. The education system is based on the United Kingdom's system, due to nearly a century of British and Christian presences in Burma. Nearly all schools are government-operated, but there has been a recent increase in privately funded English language schools. Schooling is compulsory until the end of elementary school, probably about 9 years old, while the compulsory schooling age is 15 or 16 at international level.
There are 101 universities, 12 institutes, 9 degree colleges and 24 colleges in Burma, a total of 146 higher education institutions.
There are 10 Technical Training Schools, 23 nursing training schools, 1 sport academy and 20 midwifery schools.
There are 2047 Basic Education High Schools, 2605 Basic Education Middle Schools, 29944 Basic Education Primary Schools and 5952 Post Primary Schools. 1692 multimedia classrooms exist within this system.
Due to Burma's political climate, there are not many media companies in relation to the country's population, although a certain number exists. Some are privately owned, but all have to go through the censorship board.