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Atlas Myanmar

Country (long form)
Union of Burma
Rangoon (regime refers to the capital as Yangon)
Total Area
261,970.31 sq mi
678,500.00 sq km
41,734,853 (July 2000 est.) note: estimates for this country explicitly take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS
Estimated Population in 2050
Burmese, minority ethnic groups have their own languages
83.1% total, 88.7% male, 77.7% female (1995 est.) Estimates of functional literacy are closer to 30%
Buddhist 89%, Christian 4% (Baptist 3%, Roman Catholic 1%), Muslim 4%, animist 1%, other 2%
Life Expectancy
53.6 male, 56.29 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
military regime
1 kyat (K) = 100 pyas
GDP (per capita)
$1,200 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
agriculture 65%, industry 10%, services 25% (1999 est.)
agricultural processing; textiles and footwear; wood and wood products; copper, tin, tungsten, iron; construction materials; pharmaceuticals; fertilizer
paddy rice, corn, oilseed, sugarcane, pulses; hardwood
Arable Land
pulses and beans, prawns, fish, rice; teak, opiates
machinery, transport equipment, construction materials, food products
Natural Resources
petroleum, timber, tin, antimony, zinc, copper, tungsten, lead, coal, some marble, limestone, precious stones, natural gas, hydropower
Current Environmental Issues
deforestation; industrial pollution of air, soil, and water; inadequate sanitation and water treatment contribute to disease
Telephones (main lines in use)
158,000 (1995)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
2,007 (1995)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
0 (1999)

Myanmar's prehistory begins with the migration of three groups into the country: the first were Mons from what is now Cambodia, then came Mongol Burmans from the eastern Himalayas and later came Thai tribes from northern Thailand. The 11th-century Burman kingdom of Bagan was the first to gain control of the territory that is present-day Myanmar, but it failed to unify the disparate racial groups and collapsed before a Tartar invasion in 1287. For the next 250 years, Burma remained in chaos, and the territory was not reunified until the mid-16th century when a series of Taungoo kings extended their domain and convincingly defeated the Siamese. In the 18th century, the country fractured again as Mons and hill tribes established their own kingdoms. In 1767, the Burmans invaded Siam and sacked Ayuthaya, forcing the Siamese to move their capital to Bangkok.

Occasional border clashes and British imperialist ambitions caused the British to invade in 1824, and then again in 1852 and 1883. Burma became a part of British India and the British built the usual colonial infrastructure, and developed the country into a major rice exporter. Indians and Chinese arrived with the British to complicate the racial mix.

In 1937, Burma was separated from British India and there was nascent murmuring for self-rule. The Japanese drove the British from Burma in WWII and attempted to enlist Burman support politically. The Burmans were briefly tempted by an opportunity for independence, but a resistance movement soon sprang up. In 1948, Burma became independent and almost immediately began to disintegrate as hill tribes, communists, Muslims and Mons all revolted.

In 1962 a left-wing army revolt led by General Ne Win deposed the troubled democratic government and set the country on the path of socialism. The Burman economy crumbled over the next 25 years until, in 1987 and 1988, the Burman people decided they had had enough. Huge demonstrations called for Ne Win's resignation, and massive confrontations between pro-democracy demonstrators and the military resulted in 3000 deaths in a six-week period. Several puppets were appointed by Ne Win and then a military coup (believed to be instigated by Ne Win) handed control to General Saw Maung and his State Law & Order Council (SLORC). The new leader promised elections in 1989.

The opposition quickly formed a coalition party called the National League for Democracy (NLD), under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of independence hero Bogyoke Aung San. In 1989, the government placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, but despite her imprisonment, the National League for Democracy scored an overwhelming victory at the polls.

The junta prevented the elected party leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, from taking office and then went about the brutal business of quashing Karen rebels and engaging the private army of drug baron Khun Sa. Reports of Khun Sa's 'house arrest' at a cushy villa in Rangoon with personal aides, luxury cars, a military escort and a hotel and real estate empire has given rise to suspicion of a smacked-out peace deal between Rangoon and Khun Sa's Heroin Inc.

During Aung San Suu Kyi's imprisonment, she won several international peace prizes, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Much to the joy of the Burmese people and her supporters abroad, the government released her in July of 1995. However, she was prevented from travelling outside of Rangoon, and was arrested again in September 2000 after trying to leave the city.

By October 2000, Aung San Suu Kyi was holding secret talks with the government through a United Nations negotiator that led to her release in May 2002. Both sides pledged to continue discussions, with Aung San Suu Kyi optimistic of bringing democratic reform to her country.

However, in May 2003 Suu Kyi was arrested again following a violent clash between her supporters and a pro-government mob while she was visiting northern Myanmar. Around 70 NLD supporters and local villagers were allegedly beaten or shot dead in the attack. Suu Kyi was officially 'freed' in November, but remains under house arrest at her home.

Prime minister General Khin Nyunt drafted a seven-point 'roadmap' to 'disciplined democracy' in September 2003, but this was dismissed as a diversion by the US, which along with the EU and Japan, tightened sanctions against Myanmar following Suu Kyi's re-arrest. Efforts to bring both parties back to the table continue; however, real democratic reform seems unlikely unless, or until, the military leadership decides to relinquish control.