The ruling military government changed Burma's name
to the Union of Myanmar in 1989 and the capital and
largest city Rangoon to Yangon, the changes recognised
by the UN, but not by all governments.
It is in South East Asia, bordered by China, on Laos,
Thailand, the Andaman Sea, the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh
Some larger mountains and the Irrawaddy river are the
main features of Burma.
The main resources are its soils and forests, and the
biggest earner are it's teak forest.
A great variety of wild animals found in its forest
and jungles, such as the tiger and leopard, elephant,
rhinoceros, wild buffalo, wild boar, and several species
of deer and antelope.
The population is around 45 million mainly Buddhist
of Mongol or Chinese origin, speaking a monosyllabic
and polytonal dialect, similar to those of Tibet and
China and is the official language and based on the
It is ruled by the military since 1988.
The history of Burma began in the 9th century when the
Myamma or Bamar people migrated from the China-Tibet
border region into the valley of the Irrawaddy.
The Burmese soon converted to Buddhism and created the
state which in 1057 became the First Burmese Empire.
The two names by which this people were known gave rise
to the names Myanmar (in Burmese) and Burma (in English).
After the devastating invasion by the Mongol army of
Kublai Khan in 1287, Burma broke up into several states.
Ever since, the Burmese inhabitants of the Irrawaddy
valley have sought to regain control of the neighbouring
hill peoples such as the Shan and the Karen, but these
peoples have usually maintained de facto independence.
The Portuguese reached Burma in the late 15th century,
and established trading posts, but their attempts to
extend their control were repelled.
This external threat galvanised the Burmese to establish
a stronger state, and in 1613 King Aukhpetlan decisively
defeated Portuguese attempts to take over Burma.
By the 18th century conflicts had begun to occur along
the Burmese border with British India, and the British
proved a far greater threat than the other European
The First Burmese War (1824-26 ended with Burma ceding
territory to the British, and the Second Burmese War
(1852) resulted in the annexation of Lower Burma (in
the south) and its conversion to a province of British
King Mindon of Upper (northern) Burma (ruled 1853-78)
tried to modernise the Burmese state and economy to
resist British encroachments better, and he fortified
the northern capital, Mandalay.
But in 1886 his son Thibaw was unable to prevent the
Third Burmese War, which resulted in the annexation
of the whole country and the abolition of the Burmese
Burma benefited economically from British rule, but
Burmese nationalism remained powerful.
In 1935 the British separated Burma from India and promised
that self-government would be introduced.
But in early 1942 the Japanese invaded the country and
rapidly drove the British out.
Burmese nationalists, led by Aung San, at first welcomed
the defeat of the British, but soon realised that the
Japanese had no intention of allowing Burmese independence.
Aung San then established contact with the British and
transferred the support of his 10,000 strong army to
the Allied side, in exchange for a promise of immediate
independence after the war.
In 1947, following a conference in London, Burma became
Attempts by the non-Burmese minorities to secede from
the Burmese state were prevented, but the Burmese government
had no more control over the hill territories than the
British had done.
National elections in April 1947 returned Aung San with
an overwhelming majority.
But while the new constitution was being drawn up Aung
San was assassinated by a political rival.
He was succeeded by his close associate U Nu.
Under his government Burma enjoyed a period of peace
and democratic government, but in 1958 he was succeeded
by General Ne Win.
When elections in 1962 gave U Nu a majority, Ne Win
staged a coup and brought Burmese democracy to an end.
Under Ne Win Burma became an isolated military dictatorship,
in which the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSSP)
imposed a bizarre version of socialism which soon reduced
a prosperous country to poverty.
The regime conducted endless futile wars against the
Karens and Shans, against the Burmese Communists, and
later against drug bosses such as Khun Sa.
In 1974 Ne Win declared the Socialist Republic of the
Union of Burma, with a facade of popular government
to conceal the reality of military rule.
Demonstration against the regime broke out in 1988,
and hundreds, possibly thousands, of people were killed.
The military then removed Ne Win from power and promised
Aung San Suu Kyi, Aung San's daughter, returned from
exile and established the National League for Democracy
After further disturbances the promised elections were
held in 1990, the military apparently believing that
they could rig the results in favour of the National
Unity Party, the old BSSP renamed.
NLD won a landslide victory.
After a period of indecision the military in effect
staged a second coup.
Aung San Suu Kyi was put under house arrest, the NLD
banned, and a body called the State Law and Order Restoration
Council took power headed by General Than Shwe.
The military regime has ruled Burma ever since.
In 1991 Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace
Prize and under international pressure the regime released
her from house arrest in 1995.
Plans were announced for a national convention to draft
a new constitution, but this body has never produced
The regime has survived due to strong economic and military
support from China, covert support from Thailand and
other ASEAN states, and the proceeds of smuggling drugs
and valuable timber resources.
Since 1996 the regime has been subject to international
sanctions by bodies such as the World Bank and the International
But the regime has clung to power, and in 2002 it launched
a new crackdown, with Aung San Suu Kyi being returned
to house arrest.
In 1989 the Burmese regime announced that the name of
the country was henceforth to be Myanmar, and the United
Nations now uses that name.
This was not in fact a change of name, since Myanmar
has always been the name of the country in the Burmese
The English name of the country is Burma, and this is
the name that Aung San Suu Kyi, the elected leader of
the country, uses.
Governments such as the United States and Australia,
which disapprove of the military regime, also continue
to call it Burma.
Bordered by the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal, between
Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand, in South-eastern
Area: 678,500 kmē
Climate: tropical monsoon; cloudy, rainy, hot,
humid summers (southwest monsoon, June to September);
less cloudy, scant rainfall, mild temperatures, lower
humidity during winter (northeast monsoon, December
The central lowlands ringed by steep, rugged highlands.
Natural resources: petroleum, timber, tin, antimony,
zinc, copper, tungsten, lead, coal, some marble, limestone,
precious stones, natural gas, hydropower.
Destructive earthquakes and cyclones; flooding and landslides
common during rainy season (June to September) and periodic
Burma has a mixed economy with private activity dominant
in agriculture, light industry, and transport, and with
substantial state-controlled activity, mainly in energy,
heavy industry, and the rice trade.
Government policy in the last 11 years, 1989-99, has
aimed at revitalising the economy after three decades
of tight central planning.
Thus, private activity has markedly increased; foreign
investment has been encouraged, so far with moderate
State enterprises remain highly inefficient and privatisation
efforts have stalled.
Published estimates of Burma's foreign trade are greatly
understated because of the volume of black-market trade.
A major ongoing problem is the failure to achieve monetary
and fiscal stability.
Burma remains a poor Asian country and living standards
for the majority have not improved over the past decade.
The short-term outlook is for continued sluggish growth
because of poor government planning, internal unrest,
minimal foreign investment, and the large trade deficit.
Main industrial activities are, agricultural processing;
textiles and footwear; wood and wood products; copper,
tin, tungsten, iron; construction materials; pharmaceuticals;
The major export commodities are pulses and beans, prawns,
fish, rice; teak, opiates.
External debt: $5.9 billion (1998/99 fiscal year
Currency: 1 kyat (K) = 100 pyas
Ethnic groups: Burman 68%, Shan 9%, Karen 7%, Rakhine
4%, Chinese 3%, Mon 2%, Indian 2%, other 5%
Religions: Buddhist 89%, Christian 4% (Baptist 3%, Roman
Catholic 1%), Muslim 4%, animist 1%, other 2%
Languages: Burmese, minority ethnic groups have
their own languages.
Capital, largest city and seaport is Rangoon,
now called Yangon.
This information was updated & correct in December
2003 E. & O.E.
All text is available under the terms of the GNU
Free Documentation License
Copyrights for details).
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