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Union of Myanmar

Pyidaungzu Myanma Naingngandaw

CAPITAL: Yangon (formerly Rangoon)

FLAG: The national flag is red with a blue canton, within which 14 white stars encircle a rice stalk and an industrial wheel.

ANTHEM: Kaba Makye (Our Free Homeland)

MONETARY UNIT: The kyat (k) is a paper currency of 100 pyas. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 pyas and 1 kyat, and notes of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 100 kyats. k1 = $0.17182 (or $1 = k5.82) as of 2005.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: Both British and metric weights and measures are in general use, but local units also are employed.

HOLIDAYS: Independence Day, 4 January; Union Day, 12 February; Peasants' Day, 2 March; Defense Services Day, 27 March; Burmese New Year, 17 April; World Workers' Day, 1 May; Martyrs' Day, 19 July; Christmas, 25 December. Movable religious holidays include Full Moon of Tabaung, February or March; Thingyan (Water Festival), April; Full Moon of Kason, April or May; Waso (Beginning of Buddhist Lent), June or July; Thadingyut (End of Buddhist Lent), October; and Tazaungdaing, November.

TIME: 6:30 pm = noon GMT.


Situated in Southeast Asia, Myanmar has an area of 678,500 sq km (261,970 sq mi), extending 1,931 km (1,200 mi) ns and 925 km (575 mi) ew. Comparatively, the area occupied by Myanmar is slightly smaller than the state of Texas. It is bounded on the n and e by China, on the e by Laos, on the se by Thailand, on the s by the Andaman Sea, and on the w by the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh, and India, with a total boundary length of 7,806 km (4,850 mi), of which 1,930 km (1,197 mi) is coastline.

Myanmar's capital city, Yangon (formerly Rangoon), is located in the southern part of the country.


Myanmar is divided into four topographic regions: a mountainous area in the north and west, ranging from about 1,8306,100 m (6,00020,000 ft) in altitude, and including the Arakan coastal strip between the Arakan Yoma mountain range and the Bay of Bengal; the Shan Highlands in the east, a deeply dissected plateau averaging 910 m (2,990 ft) in height and extending southward into the Tenasserim Yoma, a narrow strip of land that projects some 800 km (500 mi) along the Malay Peninsula, in the southeast; central Myanmar, a principal area of cultivation, bounded by the Salween River in the east and the Irrawaddy River and its tributary, the Chindwin, in the west; and the fertile delta and lower valley regions of the Irrawaddy and Sittang rivers in the south, covering an area of about 25,900 sq km (10,000 sq mi) and forming one of the world's great rice granaries. Good harbors are located along the coastline.

Myanmar is located in a seismically active region of the Eurasian tectonic plate. As such, the nation experiences frequent earth tremors and quakes. Though these are usually minor, below 5.0 magnitude on the Richter scale, a 6.6 magnitude earthquake occurred about 65 miles (110 km) south of Meiktila on 21 September 2003.


Myanmar has a largely tropical climate with three seasons: the monsoon or rainy season, from May to October; the cool season, from November to February; and the hot season, generally from March to April. Rainfall during the monsoon season totals more than 500 cm (200 in) in upper Myanmar and over 250 cm (100 in) in lower Myanmar and Yangon (formerly Rangoon). Central Myanmar, called the dry zone, and Mandalay, the chief city in the area, each receive about 76 cm (30 in). The mean annual temperature is 27°c (81°f); average daily temperatures in Yangon (Rangoon) range from 1832°c (6490°f) in January, during the cool season, and from 2436°c (7597°f) in April, during the hot season. The climate in upper Myanmar, particularly at altitudes ranging from about 3001,220 m (1,0004,000 ft), is the most temperate throughout the year, while lower Myanmar, especially in the delta and coastal regions, is the most humid.


Myanmar has a wide variety of plant and animal life. Teak, representing about 25% of the total forested area, thrives mainly in the mountainous regions; evergreen, bamboo, and palm in the freshwater delta swamps and along the coastlands; mangrove in the salty coastal marshes; mixed temperate forests and rolling grasslands in the Shan Highlands; and scrub vegetation in the dry central area. There are about 12 species of monkeys, as well as tigers, leopards, elephants, and half-wild pariah dogs. Fish abound along the coastline, in the tidal waters of the delta, and in the rivers and streams. As of 2002, there were at least 300 species of mammals, 310 species of birds, and over 7,000 species of plants throughout the country.


In Myanmar the principal environmental threat comes from cyclones and flooding during the monsoon season, and regular earthquakes. Deforestation for farming or illegal economic gain is the most persistent ecological effect of human encroachment. In 1985, 405 square miles were lost through deforestation. By 1994, two-thirds of Myanmar's tropical forests had been eliminated. However, the nation still had the world's eighth-largest mangrove area, totaling approximately half a million hectares. In 2000, about 52% of the total land area was forested.

Little information is available about the long-term effects of industrialization on the natural environment, although evidence of industrial pollutants has been found in the air, water, soil, and food. Myanmar has 881 cu km of renewable water resources. About 95% of city dwellers and 74% of the rural population have access to improved water sources. Inadequate sanitation and water treatment are leading contributors to disease. Environmental concerns have been given low priority by the government.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 39 types of mammals, 41 species of birds, 20 types of reptiles, 7 species of fish, 1 type of mollusk, 1 species of other invertebrate, and 38 species of plants. Threatened species included the banteng, pink-headed duck, Asian elephants, Malayan tapirs, freshwater sawfish, the Sumatran rhinoceros, Siamese crocodiles, hawksbill turtles, gaurs, and sun bears. The Javan rhinoceros is extinct.


The population of Myanmar (Burma) in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 50,519,000, which placed it at number 24 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 5% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 29% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 99 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 1.2%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 59,002,000. The population density was 75 per sq km (193 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 29% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 3.16%. The capital city, Yangon (formerly Rangoon), had a population of 3,874,000 in that year. The next largest city is Mandalay, with an estimated population of 927,000.


Indians were the most significant Asian minority in Myanmar until World War II, when hundreds of thousands fled the Japanese invasion; although many returned after the war, the Indian minority never regained its prewar proportions, because after independence in 1948 the government of Myanmar instituted rigid restrictions on Indian migration. The Indian population was substantially reduced between April 1963 and June 1965, when 100,000 were repatriated as part of a program to increase the wealth and holdings of Myanmar nationals. (Indians had dominated Myanmar's commerce.) The government has sought to curtail both immigration and emigration, although as many as 500,000 persons may have left Myanmar during 196271. About 187,000 Muslims who fled to Bangladesh in 1978 were repatriated with the help of UN agencies by the end of 1981; they had left Myanmar because of alleged atrocities by its soldiers in Arakan State. They lost their citizenship in 1982.

About 500,000 poor urban residents were forcibly relocated to rural areas between 1989 and 1992. Rural residents are also subject to forced resettlement in connection with counterinsurgency operations.

In 1992, some 250,000 Muslim refugees from Myanmar's Northern Rakhine state began arriving in Bangladesh, claiming human rights abuses in Myanmar. As of October 1996, around 50,000 of these refugees were still living in South Bangladesh in five refugee camps. Between 1994 and 1997, some 230,000 of these refugees returned home to Northern Rakhine state. The repatriation resumed in November 1998, following meetings between the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Myanmar authorities, but returns were limited to some 450 people due to procedural problems. UNHCR has appealed to the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh to accelerate the repatriation process. In 2004, there were 210 returned refugees

In 2000 the total number of migrants residing in Myanmar numbered 113,000. Myanmar migrants remitted $26 billion in 2002. The net migration rate for 2005 was an estimated -1.8 per 1000 population. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory.


The Burmans, ethnically related to the Tibetans, constitute about 68% of Myanmar's total population. In remote times, the Burmans, migrants from the hills east of Tibet, descended the Irrawaddy Valley and intermarried with the previously settled Mon and Pyu peoples. Since then, however, many other migrant peoples from the northeast and northwest have settled in Myanmar: the Shans, Karens, Kachins, Kayahs, and Chins are among the more numerous. Although much ethnic fusion has taken place among these peoples and the Burmans, most of the later migrant groups remain distinct cultural entities and have sought to preserve their autonomy, sometimes by violent means. According to the latest estimates, the Shan made up about 9% of the population, the Karen 7%, Rakhine 4%, Chinese 3%, Mon 2%, Indian 2%, and other 5%.


Burmese, the official language, is spoken by at least 80% of the population. Pronunciation varies greatly from area to area. Although Burmese is monosyllabic and tonal like other Tibeto-Chinese languages, its alphabet of 10 vowels and 32 consonants is derived from the Pahlavi script of South India; loan words from other languages are common. Burmese is the language of government, but the ethnic minorities have their own languages; according to the 1974 constitution, "if necessary the language of the national race concerned may be used."


Under the government of U Nu (overthrown in 1962), Buddhism was the state religion. Since then the government has been controlled by authoritarian military regimes which have generally placed restrictions on religious freedom. The government has ruled without a constitution since 1988 and shows a strong preference for Theravada Buddhism. All religious publications and sermons are subject to approval and censorship by the government. Proselytizing is prohibited by some Christian groups in some areas. Religious activists are generally monitored by the state.

According to government statistics, Theravada Buddhism is practiced by about 90% of the population. A number of adherents combine their practice with traditional practices such as astrology, numerology, fortune-telling, and the veneration of pre-Buddhist deities called nats. The Chinese in Myanmar practice a traditional mixture of Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and ancestor worship; the Indians are Hindus; the Pakistanis are Muslims; and most of the Europeans are Christians. Although Christian missionaries had some success with peoples of the hill areasthe Karens, Kayahs, Kachins, and Chinsconversion among the Burmans and the Shans was negligible. About 4% of the population are Christian, with Baptists, Catholics, and Anglicans being the primary denominations. The government claims that about 4% of the population are Muslim, mostly Sunni. Muslim leaders, however, claim the percentage to be much higher, at about 1420% of the population. There is a small community of Jews in Rangoon.


Because of Myanmar's near encirclement by mountain ranges, international land transportation is virtually nonexistent. Historically, Myanmar has been dependent on sea and river transport externally and internally, supplemented in modern times by the airplane. The Myanmar Road, connecting Lashio with Kunming in southern China, and the Ledo Road between Myitkyina and Ledo in Assam, northeastern India, are the only land ties between Myanmar and adjacent nations. There were an estimated 28,200 km (17,523 mi) of roads in 2002, but only 3,440 km (2,138 mi) were paved. In 2003, Myanmar had about 6,800 passenger cars and 14,000 commercial vehicles.

Myanmar's railway system, a government monopoly, operates 3,955 km (2,460 mi) of track, all of which was 1.00 narrow gauge in 2004. The main lines are from Yangon (Rangoon) to Prome (259 km/161 mi) and from Yangon to Mandalay (621 km/386 mi) and then to Myitkyina (1,164 km/723 mi from the capital).

Inland waterways, including some 12,800 km (7,961 mi) of navigable passages (25% of which are navigable by commercial vessels), are the key to internal transportation, partly compensating for limited railroad and highway development. Some 500,000 small river craft ply the Irrawaddy (navigable for about 640 km/400 mi), the Salween, the Sittang, and numerous tributaries. The Irrawaddy Delta, the focus of most water transportation, has some 2,700 km (1,679 mi) of rivers and streams, providing a seaboard for all types of craft. The state merchant fleet totaled 37 ships in 2005, with a combined GRT of 429,144.

Ocean shipping, the traditional means of external transport, is controlled by the government, which operates coastal and oceangoing freight-passenger lines. Yangon, on the Rangoon River about 34 km (21 mi) inland from the Andaman Sea, is the chief port for ocean shipping, handling the majority of the country's seaborne trade; it is also the principal terminus for the highways, railroad, inland waterways, and airways. Other ports include Sittwe (Akyab), serving western Myanmar; Pathein (Bassein), serving the delta area; and Mawlamgine (Moulmein), Dawei (Tavoy), and Mergui, which handle mineral and timber exports of the Tenasserim region.

As of 2004 there were 78 airports. As of 2005, a total of 19 had paved runways, and there was also a single heliport. Mingaladon, outside of Yangon, is the principal airport. In 2003, about 1.117 million passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international airline flights.


The founding of a kingdom at Pagan in 1044 by Anawrahta marks the beginning of the history of Myanmar (Burma) as a distinct political entity. The kingdom survived until 1287, when it was destroyed by the armies of Kublai Khan, and the next five centuries were marked by disunity. In 1754, Alaungpaya defeated the Shan kingdom in northern Myanmar and the Mon kingdom in southern Myanmar and founded the last ruling dynasty, which was in power until the British came in the early 19th century. The British conquest of the land then known as Burma spanned 62 years: the first Anglo-Burmese War took place during 182426, when the British East India Company, acting for the crown, took possession of the Arakan and Tenasserim coastal regions. In 1852, at the end of the second war, the British acquired the remainder of lower Burma; and on 1 January 1886, following Burma's defeat in the third war, total annexation of Burma was proclaimed. Incorporated into the British Indian Empire, Burma was administered as a province of India until 1937, when it became a separate colony. At this time, Burma was permitted some steps toward self-government; however, the British governor retained authority over foreign affairs, defense, currency, and the administration of frontier peoples. From 1886 to 1948, many Burmese agitated and fought continually for independence. The nationalists who finally gained independence for Burma were a group of socialist-minded intellectuals, called the Thakins, from the University of Rangoon. They included Aung San, one of the founders of modern Burma; U Nu, independent Burma's first premier; Shu Maung, also known as Ne Win, later U Nu's chief of staff; and Than Tun, a leader of a Communist revolt (194850) against the independent government. At the start of World War II, these anti-British nationalists collaborated with the Japanese, and with the aid of the Burma Independence Army, led by Aung San, the capital, Rangoon (now Yangon) fell to Japan on 8 March 1943. They were soon disappointed with the Japanese occupation, however, and the Burma Independence Army was converted into an anti-Japanese guerrilla force called the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, which later assisted the British liberation of Burma. Many of the ethnic nationalities of the frontier regions, such as the Karens and Kachins, had remained loyal to the British, as valued fighters for the Allies. After the war, Aung San negotiated with frontier ethnic leaders, signing the Panglong Agreement on 12 February 1947 with them, as a pledge of autonomy and other rights.

Having assumed leadership of the nationalist movement following the 19 July 1947 assassination of Aung San and six of his associates, U Nu signed an agreement with British Prime Minister Clement Attlee covering economic and defense relationships between the two countries. On 4 January 1948, the sovereign Union of Burma came into being outside the Commonwealth of Nations. After severe setbacks in 194849, the U Nu government was able to control a Communist insurgency and consolidate its own power, and in 1951 the nation held its first parliamentary elections. The decade of the 1950s also brought the implementation of an ambitious land reform program and an attempt to forge a neutralist foreign policy, in the face of sporadic Communist resistance and an intermittent border dispute with China. U Nu appointed Gen. Ne Win to head an interim "caretaker government" during a period of instability from 1958 to the 1960 national election (which U Nu's party won.) Ne Win returned to power with a coup d'etat on 2 March 1962. The U Nu government was overthrown, and a military regime headed by a Revolutionary Council and led by Ne Win assumed control. Student protests following the 1962 coup, and again in 1974, were crushed by the army with many civilian casualties. Most major political figures in the democratic governments of the years 194862 were arrested but were released in 196668, including U Nu. Ne Win rejected a return to a multiparty parliamentary system and proclaimed the Socialist Republic of Burma on 3 January 1974. Under a new constitution, Ne Win became president, and the government continued to be dominated by the military. Ne Win retired as president in November 1981, with Gen. San Yu succeeding him in office; but Ne Win retained his dominance, as chairman of the country's only legal political organization, the Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP). Insurgency by the underground Communist Party of Burma (CPB) and numerous ethnic armies had begun just after World War II and continued throughout Ne Win's time in power. The general sought to unify the country by giving it a Burmese-ethnic majority identity, and to defeat insurgency with the "four cuts policy" of taking civilian support away from the rebels. Instead, the tactics of his armed forces in ethnic regions drove more and more inhabitants into rebellion.

Despite President San Yu's reelection in 1985 to a four-year term and his appointment as vice chairman of the BSPP, Ne Win continued to dominate the political scene and to make all major and many minor government policy decisions. One such decision, to withdraw large currency notes from circulation in September 1987, threw the economy and the country into turmoil. The move, possibly aimed against black marketeers who had accumulated large sums of money, made 80% of the country's currency valueless, touching off student-led demonstrations. Citing his personal responsibility for dire economic conditions, Ne Win resigned as BSPP party chairman in July 1988. A protégé of Ne Win, Sein Lwin, was made BSPP chairman and president of the country. Sein Lwin's appointment triggered nationwide revolts. A broad spectrum of the population joined in, marching in the streets and going on general strikes throughout Burma. The army opened fire on unarmed protesters, killing thousands, particularly during the first week of August. Sein Lwin resigned on 12 August and Dr. Maung Maung, a civilian lawyer and journalist, was appointed his successor on 19 August. Although Maung Maung proposed multiparty elections and decreed that government employees could not be members of any political party, his refusal to step down provoked further protests. On 18 September 1988 the army abolished the BSPP, took over the government and imposed military rule under the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) headed by the army Chief of Staff, General Saw Maung. He also named himself prime minister and retained the portfolios of the Defense Ministry and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Several days of violence occurred countrywide with thousands of civilians, including children, students, and monks, killed by the armed forces. In announcing the takeover, General Saw Maung stated that the military rule would be temporary and that multiparty elections would be held once law and order were reestablished. In February 1989 Japan was the first nation to officially recognize SLORC as the legitimate government. Elections were set for 27 May 1990. On 18 June 1989 the Saw Maung regime renamed Burma "Myanmar Naing Ngan," a formal historical Burmese name for the country. It is colloquially known as "Myanmar," while democracy advocates and the US government continue to use the name "Burma."

With the elections called, political parties formed. First to organize was U Nu's League for Democracy and Peace, later known as the League for Democracy. The BSPP was reformed as the preregime National Union Party (NUP). U Nu had declared an interim government on 9 September 1988, but he garnered little support with his surprise move. In 1988 Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of assassinated legendary hero General Aung San, had returned to Myanmar to visit her ailing mother. In the midst of the chaos of this period of demonstrations and protests Aung San Suu Kyi rose to prominence delivering speeches and establishing a coalition party opposing the military regime. On 24 September 1988 Suu Kyi with U Tin Oo and Aung Gyi formed the National League for Democracy (NLD). In early 1989 Aung Gyi formed his own organization, the Union Nationals Democracy Party (UNDP). In speeches and interviews Suu Kyi challenged Ne Win's record, characterizing it as one of economic and sociopolitical degeneration. She also protested SLORC's repressive laws and actions. Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in Yangon (Rangoon) by Ne Win on 20 July 1989.

The top contenders in the elections were the NUP, the NLD, the UNDP, and the League for Democracy. The NUP was the party favored by the SLORC; and other parties had immense difficulty in campaigning and obtaining publicity. Six other parties figured prominently: the Coalition League for Democratic Multiparty Unity; the Democracy Party; the Union of Burma Main AFPFL Party led by the children of former Premier U Ba Swe; the Democratic National Front for National Reconstruction, a former leftist NUF group; the Graduates and Old Students Democratic Association; and the Original Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League. A total of 93 parties fielded 2,209 candidates who, along with 87 independent candidates, contested 485 seats out of a total of 492 constituencies designated for holding elections. Seven constituencies that were excluded from the election represented mostly the ethnic minority states of insurgency. Over 100 candidates were fielded by each of five parties: The National League for Democracy (NLD), 447 candidates; the National Unity Party (NUP) backed by SLORC, 413 candidates; the League for Democracy and Peace (LDP), 309 candidates (another source indicates 325 candidates); the Union Nationals Democracy Party (UNDP), 247 candidates (another source indicates 270 candidates), and the Democracy Party, 105 candidates. Despite its leader's (Aung San Suu Kyi) incommunicado house arrest, the NLD won the 27 May 1990 general elections by a landslide (392 candidates elected out of its field of 447, or 87.7% of the votes). The NUP took 2.4% of the votes for 10 seats out of 413 fielded. The UNDP, with 0.4% of the vote, took 1 seat in Shan State out of the 247 (270) fielded. The Democracy Party with 0.95% of the vote took 1 seat out of 105 fielded. Of the candidates fielded by the LDP none won a seat. On 18 June 1989 Saw Maung indicated that the transfer of power to the winner of the election would not occur until a new constitution was drafted, one which met with SLORC's approval. However, on 13 July the powerful junta member Lt.-General Khin Nyunt denied the initial promise of an immediate transfer of power made by General Saw Maung. SLORC's further response was to alter the purpose of the newly elected assembly from its original function as a legislative body, to that of a constituent assembly formed to draft the new constitution. SLORC would not transfer power until the resulting draft constitution had been approved both by a referendum and by SLORC.


In September 1990 SLORC revealed its intention to remain in power for a further 5 to 10 years. After his mental collapse in December 1991, Senior General Saw Maung resigned due to ill health on 23 April 1992. On the same day he was replaced as Chairman of SLORC by General Than Shwe who was also named (and remains) Chief of State and Head of the Government. The First Secretary was Lt.-General Khin Nyunt and Second Secretary was Lt.-General Tin Oo. Accompanying these leadership changes SLORC initially indicated that an effort was being made to appease criticism of its methods as hundreds of political prisoners were released. Aung San Suu Kyi's family was allowed to visit her. Two martial law decrees imposed in July 1989 also were lifted in September 1992, and a constitutional convention was promised. In early 1993 a National Convention of 700 mostly hand-picked members met to draft a new constitution. Meeting with resistance and presented with a proposal by Yo E La of the Lahu National Development Party suggesting a return to the basic principles of Myanmar's pre-1962 constitution, a bicameral parliament and the granting of basic freedoms, the convention was adjourned until 7 June 1993. Another impasse occurred with further resistance to certain clauses in the new constitution that the ruling military wanted implemented; the National Convention was adjourned until January 1994. On 18 January 1994 the convention met again to approve six objectives and 104 basic principles which would entrench and perpetuate the power of the military.

The plight of Aung San Suu Kyi garnered the attention of human rights groups internationally. In March 1991, the Geneva UN Human Rights Commission passed a resolution to condemn and monitor the human rights abuses of SLORC, and in subsequent years Special Rapporteurs have been appointed to investigate Myanmar's human rights situation. In 1991 Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the 1990 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament, the 1990 Thorolf Rafto Human Rights Prize by Norway, and on 10 December 1991 Aung San Suu Kyi's son, Alexander, accepted the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize on her behalf. In December 1993 the UN General Assembly unanimously rebuked the military rulers of Myanmar for their refusal to hand over power to the parliament democratically elected in May 1990, and called for the release of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, in her fifth year of house arrest. Eight fellow Nobel prize-winners met in Thailand in February 1993 to speak on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi, but were denied visas to visit Myanmar. US Congressman William Richardson visited with Aung San Suu Kyi, who was still under house arrest in Yangon, on 1415 February 1994, her first nonfamily visit in four-and-a-half years. Richardson also met with Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC).

Another dissenting voice in Myanmar, that of 74-year-old Aung Gyi, founder of the UNDP, was silenced when on 27 April 1993 he was sentenced to a six-month prison term. He had written a series of letters to Ne Win (much as he had paved the way for the pro-democracy movement in 198788 with a similar series of letters), and criticized the military regime in interviews with foreign journalists, but was convicted for failing to pay for eggs ordered as supplies for his tea and pastry shops. A type of human rights violation in Myanmar which drew international attention was forced labor, which the government used on tourist projects such as the reconstruction of the palace in Mandalay. Of Mandalay's 500,000 residents each family had to contribute at least three days of free labor each month. The work lasted from dawn until evening and was so strenuous that it took several days to recover from it. Prison inmates were required to work every day. Many military families could be exempted, as could any family that agreed to pay a monthly fine of about us$6, about a week's wages for some families. Forced labor was also used on a vast scale throughout Myanmar, on many building projects including roads and railroads, as well as for carrying supplies and munitions for the SLORC troops in insurgent areas. According to the testimony of escapees, the labor was accompanied by beatings, rape, execution of the ill or slow, and use of civilians as human shields and human mine-detectors. Muslim refugees who fled Myanmar said that Muslims had to pay two to three times as much as others to retain their rice ration card as a fine to escape labor. The SLORC commonly used euphemisms such as "merit-making" or "self reliance" in reference to the forced labor. Asia Watch also reported in 1994 that the government turned a "blind eye to traffic in women and girls from Myanmar to Thailand for forced-prostitution." Corrupt officials on both sides of the border were involved. It was estimated that there were about 20,000 women from Myanmar in Thai brothels, where they were at severe risk of HIV/AIDS infection.

A casualty of the China-Myanmar border agreement of 1988 was the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) which collapsed with the withdrawal of Chinese support and the mutiny of its Wa troops in 1989. The CPB split into four different ethnic armies. SLORC's main objective was to neutralize the border rebel minorities and to prevent urban dissidents from getting access to arms and ammunition. SLORC's strategy was to divide and rule. Karen National Union President Bo Mya held that guerrilla armies should hold joint talks with the government and not negotiate separately. The junta, however, would only negotiate separate agreements or treaties with individual rebel groups. To achieve its objectives SLORC introduced its Border Areas Development Program into ex-CPB areas. Infrastructure improvements of us$11.1 million in roads, bridges, schools, and hospitals were pledged in the state-run media. Necessities such as diesel, petrol, kerosene and rice were distributed. The Wa were the first to negotiate with the junta. In 1989 they were promised development assistance, were allowed to retain their arms, maintain control of their areas, and to engage in any kind of business. In exchange they promised not to attack government forces and to sever their ties with the other dissident groups and students. Throughout the 1990s the cease-fired Wa complained from time to time that little of the promised aid had been delivered, and that their demand to create a separate state was never discussed. The next deal was made with the 2,000-member Shan State Army (SSA), one of the Shan rebel factions, on 2 September 1989. The SSA was followed in December 1990 by a breakaway faction of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). On 23 April 1991 the 600-member Palaung State Liberation Army made a truce with SLORC. The 500-member Pa-O National Army rebel group also signed a peace treaty with the military regime. Accusations were leveled that the smaller forces were pushed into signing accords by the unremitting abuse of their ethnic civilians by SLORC troops. The Tatmadaw, the SLORC's armed force, had increased its own troop strength from approximately 190,000 to well over 300,000 since the suppression of 1988's pro-democracy uprising.

The Karenni rebels, angry over SLORC logging encroachments in their territory, reversed their cease-fire, in September 1992. The government launched a major counter attack on the Karenni that spilled over the Thai border. Since 1984 the rebel Karen National Union (KNU) had its camps near the Thai border; and tens of thousands of Karen civilians fled from SLORC attacks and forced labor, to the Thai side. Manerplaw was the KNU headquarters and also the seat of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), set up by fugitive members of National League for Democracy and other pro-democracy Members of Parliament elected in the thwarted 1990 polls.

Far to the north, the Kachins who had been in rebellion since 1961, had been the largest military group in a coalition of anti-SLORC ethnic forces. On 24 February 1994 the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) signed a peace treaty with SLORC. They agreed to a cease-fire in exchange for permission to participate in commerce. Conflict between the SLORC and Shan groups continued. The Mong Tai Army (MTA) of the notorious "opium warlord" Khun Sa fought the Tatmadaw in the mid-1990s, then made a surprise surrender. He was able to spend his "retirement" living in comfort in Yangon (Rangoon). Like another rehabilitated drug lord, Lo Hsing Han, he has engaged in various legitimate business ventures, giving rise to charges of large-scale narcotics money laundering involvement on the part of the junta. Cease-fired Wa officers, from Myanmar's primary opium/heroin production region, are also said to have legitimate business access in Yangon and Mandalay. Some factions of the SSA refused to sign truces with SLORC, and joined in shifting alliances with anti-cease-fire factions of the MTA, continuing to battle the Tatmadaw. In response to Shan and Karenni defiance of the cease-fire policy, the SLORC engaged in enormous forced village relocations in those regions.

Ethnic peoples of western Burma also suffered. The Muslim residents of Arakan, called the Rohingyas, became refugees en masse in the early 1990s. Previously in 1978 the Burmese government had denied them citizenship and launched Operation Naga Min (Dragon King) forcing over 200,000 Rohingyas to seek refuge in Bangladesh. This pattern was repeated in 199192. The Rohingyas whose history in the area went as far back as the 9th15th centuries when Moorish, Arab, and Persian traders arrived and married local women and settled in the area, were displaced from their land and homes. As many as 300,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh when they were forced from their land, their belongings were confiscated and women were raped by government troops. Some co-religionists made statements of protest, but ASEAN offered a policy of "constructive engagement" thus resisting pressures by the United States and European Community (EC) to adopt a stand on human rights abuses. According to this regional attitude, taking a stand would amount to interference in the internal affairs of a neighboring country. The countries of the region for the most part entered into "constructive engagement" with SLORC, gaining trade and investment opportunities, thus altering the status of the Myanmar exiles and refugees within their borders.

The international community has continued to debate the most effective approach for dealing with Myanmar. Up to and following Myanmar's acceptance into ASEAN in July 1997, ASEAN countries and Japan have argued that "engaging" Myanmar is more productive than "isolating" it. This approach gained them controversial timber concessions, energy projects, and some tourism plus manufacturing opportunities. It did not inspire liberalization by the junta. The United States and European Union (EU) have imposed limited economic sanctions, but allowed their petroleum corporations to remain in Myanmar as major investors. Proposals by groups of nations to offer Myanmar's generals economic rewards for steps toward liberalization have been rejected by the junta as "bribery." Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD continues to call for strong economic sanctions as the best way to pressure the junta to the negotiation table, and to deprive the Tatmadaw of the weapons it buys with hard currency (mainly from China and Singapore). The NLD has called for a tourism boycott and for withdrawal of foreign corporations until democracy arrives.

SLORC released Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest on 10 July 1995. Her freedom was short-lived, however. After large crowds of people began gathering in front of her house for weekly speeches, she was forbidden to address such gatherings. In November 1995, the NLD withdrew from the National Convention which was to formulate a SLORC-approved constitution, in protest of undemocratic policies; in turn SLORC permanently barred the NLD from participation and eventually the Convention meetings were suspended. Suu Kyi announced in May 1996 the NLD's plan to draft its version of the constitution, one that would oust the junta and implement new economic policies for the country.

SLORC curtailed Suu Kyi's attempts at movement outside of Yangon, which she protested with car sit-ins in 1998. NLD members have been detained by the hundreds, and many publicly renounced their membership. The Union Solidarity Defense Association (USDA) was formed by SLORC as a "mass organization" modeled after Sukarno's Golkar in Indonesia. It staged rallies denouncing the NLD, and Suu Kyi was physically threatened by some of its members. A steady campaign of insults against Suu Kyi was featured in the state-run press. In 1999, Suu Kyi's terminally ill British husband, Michael Aris, was denied a visa to see her one last time. The junta stated that she was free to leave Myanmar, but the implication was that she would not be permitted back. Aris died on 27 March. Student demonstrations took place in 1996, and institutions of higher learning were closed down by SLORC. Most universities and colleges remained shut down the majority of the time since 1988 (although as of 2000 some were reopening). Attempts by student activists to mark the tenth anniversary of the "four eights" (8-8-88) democracy uprising, and another auspicious date, 9-9-99, were quickly suppressed. Long jail sentences have been handed down for even mild forms of public protest, and human rights groups report that torture of student dissidents is routine in Myanmar's prisons. Min Ko Naing, an important leader of the 1988 demonstrations, remains in prison. Leo Nichols, an honorary consul for European nations, died in a Myanmar prison, where he was held for unauthorized possession of a fax machine. As the junta attempts to control information, Internet access is extremely limited and unauthorized possession of a modem can earn a 17-year prison sentence.

Using a Buddhist breakaway Karen faction, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), against the Christian-led KNU, the Tatmadaw was able to over-run Manerplaw and destroy most of the Karen rebel bases in 1995. Tatmadaw and DKBA troops entered Thailand in late January 1997 and attacked Karen refugee camps. A highly controversial natural gas pipeline across the region of southern Burma called the Tenasserim apparently inspired SLORC military campaigns against Mon and Karen rebels in that area. The Mon rebels signed a cease-fire agreement, but numerous Tatmadaw battalions were brought in to protect the pipeline project from Karen sabotage. The multinational petroleum companies involved, Total of France and Unocal from the United States, were accused by human rights and environmental groups of complicity in human rights violations, including forced labor and forced relocation, committed by the SLORC's security forces. Victims of such abuses sued Unocal, achieving a multi-million dollar settlement, in a groundbreaking US court case. The pipeline began bringing natural gas from Myanmar's Andaman Sea to an electrical generating plant on the Thai side of the border in 1999. Outside economic pressure built up during the 1990s, in the form of consumer boycotts of companies doing business in Myanmar, limited US economic sanctions, and "selective purchasing" laws by cities. Massachusetts' "Burma selective purchasing law" was brought to the Supreme Court in 2000. By that year, foreign investment in Myanmar had decreased markedly, due to sanctions pressures, the Asian economic crisis, and concerns about corruption in the State Peace and Development Council (SLORC was renamed the SPDC in 1997)-controlled economy. In June 1999, the International Labor Organization of the UN essentially expelled Myanmar from its ranks, following a detailed investigation of forced labor under the SPDC. In early 2000, the World Bank issued a report highly critical of Myanmar's economic and political climate. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund have been barred from lending to Myanmar.

The Myanmar government has also come under considerable international criticism for its complicity in the country's massive drug trade. Myanmar is one of the world's largest producers of opium and heroin. Since 1990, the country has also become one of the largest manufacturers of illicit methamphetamine. Thai officials voiced dismay over the flood of "speed" pills into Thailand from Myanmar (particularly the Wa region, where a cease-fire is in effect) and the seeming callousness of the Myanmar government regarding the drug trade. Myanmar is the main source of heroin in China, where addiction grew seven-fold from 1989 to 1997. A 1999 Interpol conference on narcotic suppression, held in Yangon, was boycotted by the United States and other governments as a protest against the junta's apparent profiting from drug trafficking.

With burgeoning drug production in the north of Myanmar has also come a raging HIV/AIDS epidemic. International health organizations estimated the number of Burmese infected in the north alone at 350,000400,000 in 1996. The HIV/AIDS virus has spread unchecked in Myanmar through the use of contaminated needles by drug addicts, by unsafe medical practices, and by infected Burmese women returning from forced prostitution in Thailand. AIDS education, prevention, and care programs have been a low priority in Myanmar. The United Nation's Global Fund withdrew its AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis program from Myanmar in August 2005, claiming that government restrictions made it impossible for the grants to be implemented effectively.

Aung San Suu Kyi was again placed under house detention in September 2000; she was released in May 2002, and toured the country, speaking out in support of democratization. She urged the international community in August to keep economic sanctions against the SPDC in place until a democratic dialogue reached a more meaningful stage. During 2001, over 200 NLD activists were released from detention; in November 2002, another 115 political prisoners were released. The most violent attack on the NLD occurred 30 May 2003 at Depayin in northern Burma. A convoy carrying Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been touring the north and speaking to large crowds, and her supporters, was attacked by a mob of young men, reportedly under the instigation of the military and USDA. Dozens of NLD supporters were killed in the assault, and many more were arrested. Aung San Suu Kyi was injured and placed under house arrest back in Yangon. A crackdown on the NLD followed, with offices closed and members arrested. The "Depayin Massacre" was condemned by governments and international organizations. The SPDC freed about 40 political prisoners in November 2004. The highest-profile dissident released at that time was Min Ko Naing, one of the main leaders of the 1988 uprising. He had been imprisoned, often in solitary confinement, since 1989. On his release he remained a strong and articulate critic of the regime.

On 5 December 2002, General Ne Win died under house arrest. He had been arrested in March for plotting a coup against the military regime. Ne Win's three grandsons and son-in-law remained in jail, sentenced to death for their plot in the supposed coup.

During 2001 and 2002, relations between Myanmar and Thailand improved. The two countries held talks in June 2001, attempting to ameliorate disagreements over the drug trade and border tensions. By September, Myanmar pledged to eliminate drug trade in the Golden Triangle by 2005. Thailand committed funds to finance a crop substitution program, and the two countries regarded themselves as good neighbors. However, in May 2002, Myanmar closed its border with Thailand after the Thai army fired shells into Myanmar's territory during a battle between the SPDC and ethnic Shan rebels. The border was reopened in October. As Myanmar's turn to take the chair manship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for 2006 approached, calls were heard from the international community for Myanmar to be deprived of that honor because of the SPDC's human rights violations and authoritarian government. In July 2005, it was announced that Myanmar would relinquish the chair position, to focus on "the ongoing national reconciliation and democratization process."

In December 2000, Amnesty International reported that torture was increasing in Myanmar despite official military statements that it is illegal. In November 2001, the International Labour Organization (ILO) sent a mission to Myanmar to investigate governmental measures taken to end its program of forced labor. The mission reported some progress, but expressed "profound concern" that the governmental measures had had a limited impact. On 12 February 2003, the UN marked the anniversary of the entry into force of an international treaty banning child soldiers, but warned that the problem of child soldiers is still prevalent. In Myanmar, an estimated 70,000 children are in uniform in the state army. Many are forcibly conscripted by kidnapping or threats of prison at ages as young as 11.


The Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma was announced on 3 January 1974, after a new basic law had been approved by plebiscite. Under the 1974 constitution (which was suspended in September 1988), the leading organ of state power was the 489-member unicameral People's Assembly (Pyithu Hluttaw). The head of state was the chairman of the Council of State (29 members in 1986), which was elected by the People's Assembly and theoretically responsible to it. The prime minister headed the Council of Ministers (24 members in 1986) and also served on the Council of State. Other main governmental organs were the Council of People's Justices (9 members), the Council of People's Attorneys (6), the Council of People's Inspectors (6), and the people's councils at the level of the state (or division), township, and ward or village tract. Nationwide legislative elections were held in 1974, 1978, 1981, and 1985; in each election, voters either accepted or rejected candidates from a single slate presented by the ruling Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP). Suffrage is universal at age 18, although the military has taken measures to discourage voter registration. A military coup in September 1988 brought the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) to power. SLORC abolished the previous government and placed the country under martial law. In June 1989, the official title of the country was changed to Myanmar Naing Ngan. The SLORC junta supervised and coordinated the work of the central and local organs of state power. It renamed itself the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in November 1997.

In the multiparty election held 27 May 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) received 87.7% of the total vote and took 392 of its 447 contested seats, and the National Unity Party (NUP), the former BSPP re-registered as a new party, took only 10 seats with 2.4% of the votes.

SLORC refused to hand over power to the NLD, instead voiding the election and insisting that a new constitution need be drafted and approved by referendum, and by SLORC, prior to the transfer of power. Senior General Saw Maung resigned due to ill health on 23 April 1992 and General Than Shwe replaced him on the same day as Chairman of SLORC and as Chief of State and Head of the Government. Vice chairman of the SPDC is General Maung Aye. The Foreign Minister is Win Aung, and the Home Affairs Minister is Tin Hlaing. Lt. Gen. Tin Oo, former second secretary of the SPDC and chief of staff of the army, died in a helicopter crash 19 February 2002. The other two "secretaries" of the SPDC were Lt.-General Khin Nyunt and Lt.-General Win Myint. A sudden purge in October 2004 removed Khin Nyunt from power. He was arrested and charged with corruption, with a 44-year suspended sentence. The purge extended to his Military Intelligence apparatus, with MI officers arrested and their assets confiscated throughout Myanmar. The ousting of Khin Nyunt left the SPDC firmly under the control of Than Shwe and the equally "hardline" Maung Aye, who appeared inclined to take a less conciliatory policy toward armed ethnic groups than Khin Nyunt, the architect of the cease-fire strategy. On 7 May 2005 bomb blasts at a convention center and two supermarkets in Yangon killed 11 people. The SPDC blamed opposition groups for the explosions, while some analysts linked the bombings to internal power struggles within the regime itself.

A drastic step was taken on 6 November 2005 when government ministries were compelled to leave Yangon (Rangoon) for a new capital still under construction at Pyinmana in the mountains 400 km north of Yangon. The motives for the large-scale mass relocation to a place with little infrastructure completed were unclear, but speculation ranged from fear of military attack to an attempt at more centralized control of the country to a form of "preventive magic." Civil servants were reluctant to make the move, but were compelled to go, without their families, to the government complex at Pyinmana named Nay Pyi Daw, "Place of Kings."


Between 1948 and 1962, Burma's parties were mostly socialist in economic orientation. The most important of these was the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL), which gained independence for the country and which included within its ranks the distinct Burma Socialist Program Party. The AFPFL governed the country from 1948. In 1958, tensions within the government, and insurgency in the countryside, prompted Prime Minister U Nu to temporarily hand over power to a "caretaker" government headed by General Ne Win. When U Nu's new Union Party won a landslide victory in 1960 elections, Ne Win relinquished power to him. Then on 2 March 1962, Ne Win staged a coup d'etat and began his long rule with the one-party (Burma Socialist Program Party) state.

Other parties before 1962 included two Communist movements, the "White Flags" and the "Red Flags," both of which took up arms early after independence and were later defeated by the government (the White Flags, however, were not completely eradicated until 1975). An above-ground Communist Party existed after 1949 and became the nucleus of the National United Front (NUF) in 1952. Both the Communists and the NUF, like all other parties except the ruling military-dominated Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP), were banned in 1974. The well-armed Communist Party of Burma (CPB) insurgents based themselves primarily in northeast Burma, along the China border. Chinese support for the Communist party of Burma (CPB) continued well after support for the Communist parties of Malaysia and Thailand was withdrawn, but from the mid-1980s aid did not compare with a decade earlier. In 1989 the CPB was overthrown by its troops, many of whom regrouped as the United Wa State Army, which soon signed a cease-fire deal with the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC).

Burmese independence leader General Aung San had negotiated the Panglong Agreement with representatives of frontier ethnic groups in 1947, but issues of autonomy and federalism have never been resolved. Numerous ethnic parties with armed wings were formed in the mid- to late-20th century, including the Karen National Union, Kachin Independence Organization, New Mon State Party, Karenni National Progressive Party, Shan State Progress Party, Arakan Liberation Party, and Chin National Front. Umbrella groups of the ethnic insurgents were established, notably the National Democratic Front, followed by the Democratic Alliance of Burma. In the 1990s, many ethnic organizations signed cease-fire agreements with the SLORC. A continuous demand of the opposition is "tri-partite negotiations" between the SLORC/SPDC junta, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, and representatives of the ethnic groups. Most of the ethnic leaders favor a federal union of Burma based on ethnic regions. The SPDC arrested 10 Shan political leaders in February 2005 following a meeting they held in the Shan State. In May 2005, several veteran Shan political exiles issued a declaration of independence for their ethnic group, putting them at odds with the federalist policies of other ethnic activists and the NLD.

The democracy uprising of 1988 ended with the 18 September coup which installed the military officers of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). The Burma Socialist Program Party was formally abolished, and all governing authority was concentrated in the hands of the military. The earliest formation of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) was made up of 17 active military commanders of the Defense Services. On 18 September 1988 it was renamed the Organization for Building Law and Order in the State (OBLOS) and two more members were added. On 20 September 1988 the final version of the SLORC government was formed by maintaining the 19 members and adding two nonmembers to the Cabinet, increasing the number of Cabinet ministers from seven to nine. On 24 September 1988 the BSPP was reborn as the National Unity Party (NUP), inheriting the buildings and machinery of the old BSPP. Allied to the NUP were satellite parties, the former supporters of the BSPP.

On 24 September 1988 the National League for Democracy (NLD), a coalition party, was formed in opposition to the military regime. Leaders Aung San Suu Kyi and Aung Gyi soon parted ways over the latter's accusations of communist infiltration of the NLD. On 28 August 1988 U Nu, at age 83, with his followers from the older generation formed the League for Democracy and Peace (LDP), latter known as the League for Democracy. The NLD won the 27 May 1990 elections by a landslide, electing 392 candidates; the NUP took 10 seats; the UNDP and the Democracy Party took 1 seat each; and the LDP did not win any seats. In April/May 1991 the Election Commission dropped the names of the NLD's General Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Tin Oo from a roster of NLD leaders, as well as the names of all other Central Executive Committee members who were jailed. NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest from 20 July 1989 to 10 July 1995, from 2 September 2000 to 6 May 2002, and from May 2003 onwards. NLD members have been detained and imprisoned in ever-increasing numbers, and many have been pressured to renounce their membership at public rallies of the junta-sponsored Union Solidarity Defense Association (USDA) a mass organization formed in September 1993 to support the ruling military. Aung San Suu Kyi's 60th birthday, 19 June 2005, was marked by international protests of her continuing house arrest, and 24 October 2005, her tenth cumulative year of arrest was another day of protest by overseas Burmese. A campaign to pressure the UN Security Council to put Burma on its agenda was launched by former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel and South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in October 2005.

Dr. Sein Win of the Party for National Democracy, winner of a seat in Pegu District, and seven NLD members legitimately elected to parliament but not recognized by SLORC, fled to border areas and formed a parallel government, the National Coalition Government Union of Burma (NCGUB). Sein Win was named prime minister of the NCGUB, which is now headquartered in Washington, D.C., where it serves as a diplomatic vehicle for the international exiled Burmese democracy movement.

On 29 January 1992 SLORC appointed additional ministers, mostly serving or ex-military, to the original nine-member cabinet, and three new military commanders were added to the original nineteen-member SLORC. Senior General Saw Maung resigned due to ill health on 23 April 1992. He was replaced as Chairman of SLORC by General Than Shwe on 23 April 1992. Than Shwe was named Chief of State and Head of the Government. First Secretary is Major-General Khin Nyunt and Second Secretary was Major-General Tin Oo, until his death in a helicopter crash in February 2002. Lt.-Gen. Win Myint is the other secretary of the SPDC. The SLORC changed its name to State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in November 1997. The National Convention, aimed at drafting a new constitution has been suspended indefinitely, and the NLD withdrew from the process in protest at its being used to legitimize the junta. Other parties have objected to the National Convention's insensitivity to ethnic rights issues.


Myanmar is a unitary nation, ruled by a military junta, comprising seven states and seven divisions. The main distinction between the two kinds of units, which are functionally the same, is that the states represent an area where a national ethnic minority is the local majority, while the divisions have no such communal basis. The states are Arakan (Rakhine), Chin, Kachin, Karen (Kayin), Kayah, Mon, and Shan. The divisions are Irrawaddy, Magwe, Mandalay, Bago (Pegu), Sagaing, Yangon (Rangoon), and Tenasserim. States and divisions are segmented into 317 townships. Village tracts consist of villages, and towns are divided into wards. Law and Order Restoration Councils (LORCs) serve as local administration, although regional army commanders control the actual decision making process. A LORC was formed for each State, Division, Township Sector and Ward/Village Sector. Military campaigns of forced village relocations, especially in the Shan and Karenni states and Tenasserim Division, have changed the rural map of Myanmar and placed much of the agricultural population under direct army control. In some frontier areas where cease-fire groups (such as the UWSA or KIO) still hold significant territory, administration is by the former insurgent leadership.


The British-style judicial organs with which Burma began its independence, including a supreme court, were disbanded by Ne Win's Revolutionary Council. The 1974 constitution, suspended since 1988, provided for a Council of People's Justices, state and divisional judges' committees, and township, ward, and village tract judges' committees. The Council of People's Justices was elected by the national assembly from among its own members; nominations were made by the Council of State, which coordinated relations between central and local levels of government. Military tribunals which enforced orders issued by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) were abolished in 1992. Ordinary courts now handle such cases, with heavy military influence. The Supreme Court appoints judges after approval of the SPDC. There are courts at the township, district, state, and national levels. The SPDC has used laws such as the Emergency Provisions Act and the Unlawful Associations Act to crack down on dissent. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and the United Nations have criticized the SPDC for unfair trials and arbitrary imprisonment, as well as use of torture and summary execution.


The armed forces play the major role in Myanmar's politics and administration; senior members of the government are officers who govern under martial law.

Myanmar's armed forces had 428,000 active personnel in 2005, including the paramilitary People's Militia and People's Police Force, which had 35,000 and 72,000 active personnel, respectively. The Army, with 350,000 personnel, had an equipment roster that included 150 main battle tanks, 105 light tanks, of which an estimated 60 were thought to be serviceable, 115 reconnaissance vehicles, 325 armored personnel carriers, and over 388 artillery pieces. The Navy had an estimated 13,000 members, including 800 naval infantry troops. Major fleet units included 4 corvettes, 71 patrol/coastal vessels, and 11 amphibious landing craft. The Air Force had 12,000 personnel and had 125 combat capable aircraft, including 58 fighters and 22 fighter ground attack aircraft. The service also operated 29 support helicopters. The military budget in 2005 totaled $6.85 billion. Various rebel groups were estimated at perhaps 15,000 and operate inside and outside of northern Myanmar.


Myanmar was admitted to the United Nations on 19 April 1948; it is a member of ESCAP and several nonregional specialized agencies, such as the FAO, IAEA, the World Bank, ILO, UNSECO, UNIDO, and the WHO. Regional bodies to which Myanmar belongs include the WTO, the Asian Development Bank, ASEAN, G-77, the Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), and the Colombo Plan. Myanmar is a member of the Nonaligned Movement. In environmental cooperation, Myanmar is part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, CITES, International Tropical Timber Agreements, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.


Agriculture is the largest sector of the economy, contributing 54.6% of GDP in 2005 and employing about 70% of the labor force. Myanmar is self-sufficient in food. Principal crops are paddy rice, corn, oilseed, sugarcane, and pulses. Traditionally rice was the major product and the major foreign exchange earner, accounting for about 70% of the country's cultivated land. In 1996, rice exports quadrupled to $197 million, and accounted for 22% of merchandise exports. The Asian financial crisis of 1997 hit Myanmar hard, reducing rice exports by about one-third. The major recipients of Myanmar's rice are Indonesia and China. Myanmar is also the world's largest exporter of teak, producing 80% of world supply.

Industries include agricultural processing, textiles and footwear, wood and wood products, petroleum refining, mining production (mainly copper, tin, tungsten, and iron), construction materials, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizer. In 2005, industrial production accounted for 13% of GDP. In the past Myanmar was a net petroleum exporter, but production decreased steadily. Both oil and gas exploration is on-going with the participation of foreign companies, and in 1997/98 the energy sector grew by 37.7% (from virtual nonexistence) due to investment in the Yadana natural gas pipeline to Thailand, which came on-line in 1999. The $1.2 billion pipeline was a joint venture between the California company Unocal and the Myanmar military government. The government has plans to develop a $1 billion Myanmar-Bangladesh-India pipeline. For the most part, Myanmar's significant mineral resources have not been fully developed due to out-dated equipment and poor management.

Infrastructure is a major impediment to economic growth. Water treatment and distribution, sewage disposal, and irrigation systems, as well as power transmission and distribution, require up-grading. Industry faces chronic shortages of electricity. Roads are poor and many are not passable during parts of the year. Telephone facilities are lacking, but a telecommunications modernization program begun in the 1990s included the installation of a cellular telephone system in Yangon; as of yearend 2005, Myanmar had more than 135,000 mobile phones in use. The financial sector suffers from excessive bureaucratic red tape and foot-dragging by state economic enterprises fearing competition. The government drafted new laws on a central banking and financial institutions as steps toward improvement in the financial sector.

The government reported that the economy grew by 6% in 1995 and 6.8% in 1996. Growth was estimated by the US State Department at 1.1% for 1998. In 1999 strong growth of 10.9% was reported, propelled by a 13.8% growth in industry and 11.5% growth in agriculture. The government reported growth in 2000 at 13.6% overall but according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), independent estimates suggested more modest progress of around 6%. Inflation had averaged about 25% for more than a decade, but a drop in food prices due to a bumper rice crop (and the heavy weight given rice in Myanmar's consumer price index) brought a sharp drop in inflation, to a negative 0.1% according to government statistics. In 2001 a slower annual growth of 5% was reported with a 9.6% resurgence of inflation.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005, the GDP growth rate stood at 1.5%. Official government statistics put the growth rate in 2004 at 13.8%. The CIA estimated the inflation rate to be 18% in 2005.

It should be noted that it is difficult to assess the true economic situation in Myanmar due to the existence of an enormous and all-pervasive informal market. Much of Myanmar's economic activity is illicit, notably the smuggling of drugs. Myanmar, which forms part of the "Golden Triangle" (along with Laos and Thailand), is the world's second-largest producer of illegal opiates. The government's efforts to control poppy production and drug traffic to China and Hong Kong are ineffective. Myanmar is also the primary source of amphetamine-type in Asia, producing hundreds of millions of tablets per year. Since 1989, the only kind of US aid for which Myanmar has been eligible, besides humanitarian aid, is counter-narcotic and crop substitution assistance, because of the human rights issues involved with the imposition of military rule in 1988. Large quantities of smuggled consumer goods are sold in Myanmar's cities, where the black market thrives.

The military regime, SLORC, which took over Myanmar in 1988, proclaimed a market oriented economic policy and invited foreign investment. A 1992 United Nations Development Programme report noted that Myanmar after a few years of recovery from the economic and political upheaval of 1988 was again slipping into recession and hyperinflation. Myanmar's main donors suspended aid. The country has not fully serviced its foreign debt since 1988. Two trends have been apparent in the government's economic policies: the capture of revenues from short term, quick turnover sources such as hardwoods, prospecting rights, and taxes on profits from illegal sources; and spending patterns that emphasize defense spending and acquisition of armaments. An estimated 87% of tax revenues are spent on the military whereas expenditures on health and on education both amount to less than 0.5% of GDP. Myanmar receives no aid from US or EU programs and aid from Japan is run at a maintenance level. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) extend no credit to Myanmar. The economy has been hurt by economic sanctions imposed by the United States: the United States imports no goods from Myanmar and bans the export of financial services from the United States to Myanmar. A number of other countries, including member states of the EU, Canada, Australia, Japan, and South Korea, have joined the United States in applying some form of sanctions against the regime.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Myanmar's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $76.2 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $1,800. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 1.5%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 18%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 54.6% of GDP, industry 45%, and services 50%.

According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $78 million.

It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 3.9%. It was estimated that in 2000 about 25% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.


In 2005, Myanmar's civilian labor force was estimated at 27.75 million. As of 2001 (the latest year for which data was available), an estimated 70% were engaged in agriculture, primarily rice cultivation, while industry accounted for 7% and services 23%. The unemployment rate was estimated at 5% in 2005.

No trade union or independent labor movement activity has occurred since 1988, when the government banned the workers' and peasants' organizations of the previous government, thereby eliminating any right to bargain collectively. Forced labor is frequently used by the military for building projects. Prison labor is also extensively used, especially in stone quarrying projects. Wage levels continue to be low and have been eroded by inflation.

While the official minimum working age is 13, the presence of child labor is conspicuous in both rural and urban areas. In the latter areas, most children work in small or family-owned businesses, while in rural areas children are employed in agricultural activities. Official data for 2002, shows that 6% of children in urban areas worked, but of that total, only 4% received wages.

Only government workers and employees of a few traditional industries are covered by a minimum wage. As of 2005, salaried public employees had a minimum wage of $0.13 per day for an eight hour workday, an amount that was grossly inadequate to support a worker and a family with a decent living standard. Inadequate wages, even among senior officials, has led to absenteeism and widespread corruption. In the private sector, laborers in urban areas earned about $0.50 to $1.00 per day, while workers in agricultural areas earned about half that amount. A skilled factory worker can earn around $3.00 a day. Health and safety risks in the workplace are prevalent.


Myanmar's exports of food accounted for 15% of its foreign exchange earnings in 2004. About 17% of the land is under cultivation. Agriculture generates roughly 70% of employment and 40% of the recorded GDP.

Rice, by far the most important agricultural product, in 2004 covered about 6 million hectares (14.8 million acres) of land in the fertile Irrawaddy delta region, the lower valleys of the Sittang and Salween rivers, and along the Arakan and Tenasserim coasts. Prior to World War II (193945), Myanmar was the world's leading exporter of rice; annual production ranged between 13 million and 14 million tons, of which about three million tons were exported. However, the war caused extensive damage to the economy, and Myanmar did not achieve prewar levels of rice acreage and output until 1964. Rice production totaled 9.57 million tons in 2004/05. Farmers have been instructed by the government to double-crop wet season paddy and triple-crop in areas with year-round access to water. In some areas near the sea, multiple cropping brings saltwater intrusion, high flood risks, and seasonal pest problems. New high-yield varieties of rice have contributed to the increases in recent years, along with the completion of new irrigation systems and flood-control dams in the Irrawaddy delta during the early 1980s.

Other crops in 2004, grown mainly in central Myanmar and the state of Shan, included 6,368,000 tons of sugarcane, 715,000 tons of groundnuts, 600,000 tons of corn, and 550,000 tons of sesame. The use of high-yield varieties of seeds helped to more than triple the output of wheat, corn, and sunflower seeds and to double cotton production during 197686. Tobacco and jute are also produced, and rubber is grown on small plantations in the Tenasserim and Irrawaddy delta regions. During the mid-1990s, Myanmar was the world's largest producer of opium and heroin, with opium production estimated at 2,560 tons in 1996. In 2003, opium poppy production was estimated at only 484 tons.

The total amount of land under cultivation declined in the 1970s, but the amount of paddy land increased. The Mu Valley irrigation project, implemented in north-central Myanmar with UNDP aid in the 1970s, irrigated 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres) of farmland. With the completion of the Nawin Dam in 1982, about 40,000 hectares (99,000 acres) of new irrigated land in the Prome region, north of Yangon (Rangoon), were added to the cultivated area. With IBRD and Asian Development Bank aid, new rice storage facilities, a system of drainage canals in the heavy-rainfall paddy land of lower Myanmar, and gravity irrigation systems in dry zones were constructed.


Despite Buddhist prohibitions against any kind of animal slaughter, the Myanma eat beef and other meats. Zebu cattle and water buffalo are mainly raised as draft animals; the output of such hides was 24,000 tons in 2005. Dairy farming is confined to the Shan and Kachin states; hogs and poultry are found in virtually every village.

In 2005, Myanmar had an estimated 12,000,000 head of cattle, 5,220,000 hogs, 2,700,000 water buffalo, 1,800,000 goats, 492,000 sheep, and 88,000,000 chickens, and 8,000,000 ducks. Meat production was 632,000 tons; milk from cattle, 677,000 tons (80% cow, 20% buffalo); eggs, 1,452,000 tons.


Fishing is the most significant nonagricultural pursuit in Myanmar. Fish, which supply the main protein element in the Myanma diet, generally are dried and salted before marketing or consumed fresh or as fish paste. Roho labeo and various carp are the main species caught. Traditionally, the Myanma preferred fish from fresh or brackish water; but saltwater fishing in the shallow waters of the Bay of Bengal, Andaman Sea, and Gulf of Martaban has increased in recent years. To encourage a larger saltwater catch, the government embarked on expanded deep-sea fishing operations and erected a cold storage plant, a fish cannery, and a fish oil and meal factory. The total fish catch in 2003 was 1,606,252 tons (67% saltwater, 23% freshwater), up from 686,515 tons in 1986. Aquaculture accounted for 16% of production in 2003. That year, exports of fish products were valued at $142.6 million.


Forests and woodland cover nearly half the country, even though the annual deforestation rate was 0.68% during 197589. Some 38% of the forest was Reserved Forest Area in 2001. Myanmar has a major share of the world's teak reserves, which constitute about one-third of the forested area. As the world's leading exporter of teak, Myanmar supplies about 75% of the world market. The lumbering of teak, a 10-year process from the first girdling of the tree to its arrival at the sawmill, was disrupted by World War II (193945); production rebounded to about 136,000 tons in 1986. Increased output of teak in the 1980s was attributable to completion of four modern timber-extraction projects. Teak log production totaled 2.21 million cu m (78.1 million cu ft) in 2004. A special teak plantation program begun in 1998 will provide a sustainable production of 1.8 million cu m (63.5 million cu ft) per year. Roundwood production in 2004 totaled 39.8 million cu m (1.4 billion cu ft). Other forest products include lac, catechu resin, and bamboo.

All foreign timber concessions have been nationalized, and all forests are government-owned; the State Timber Board (STB) lumbers, mills, and markets forest products. The export of forest products rose in value from $294.1 million in 1993 to $401.1 million in 2004.


With the exception of precious gemstones, of which Myanmar had large resources, mineral production was small, and mostly for domestic consumption. The mining sector, including oil and gas, contributed 2% of GDP in 2001. Copper, tin, tungsten, iron, construction materials, and fertilizer were among the country's leading industries in 2002; precious stones ranked fourth among export commodities, supplying 2% of export earnings.

Estimated outputs for 2003 were: copper (metal content), 27,900 metric tons, up from 27,500 metric tons in 2002; tin (metal content, from tin and tin-tungsten concentrate), 210 metric tons, unchanged from 2002; tungsten (metal content, from tin and tin-tungsten concentrate), 30 metric tons, unchanged from 2002; jade, 11 million kg, up from 10,800,000 kg in 2002; and spinel rubies and sapphires, 4.7 million carats, down from 4,769,511 carats in 2002. Metallic ores of chromite, gold, lead, manganese, nickel, silver, and zinc were mined in small amounts. Industrial mineral production included construction aggregates, barite, hydraulic cement, fire clay, feldspar, gypsum, limestone, salt (including brine salt), sand and gravel, and silica sand. Lead, zinc, silver, copper, nickel, and cobalt were produced at the Bawdwin mine, in Namtu. No carbonate rocks, or cobalt was produced in 2003. Deposits of iron ore and antimony have been found.

The government controlled all mineral exploration, extraction, regulation, and planning through the two departments and six enterprises of the Ministry of Mines. In 2001, state-owned enterpriseswhose share of output was 5.5% (11.6% in 1998)operated one gold mine (the Kyaukpahtoe), three nonferrous metals mines (the Bawdwin, Bawsaing, and the Yadanatheingi), and two coal mines. Of the four foreign exploration companies active in 2000, two were active in 2001mining gypsum, zinc, and gold. The Myalate Taung limestone resources, in Kyaukse Township, Mandalay Division, had 291 million tons.


Myanmar's production of crude oil in 2002 averaged 15,000 barrels per day, with imports of crude averaging 8,120 barrels per day. Refined petroleum product output that year averaged 21,500 barrels per day, with demand for refined oil products at 34,500 barrels per day.

Gross natural gas output in 2002 came to 310.77 billion cu ft, with 3.53 billion cu ft vented or flared. Marketed output came to 307.24 billion cu ft of which dry production and consumption came to 296.65 billion cu ft and 77.69 billion cu ft, respectively.

Coal production in 2002 totaled 130,000 short tons, of which bituminous and brown coal (lignite) came to 63,000 short tons and 67,000 short tons, respectively.

Production of electricity in 2002 totaled 6.329 billion kWh, of which thermal plants provided about 65% and hydroelectric power about 35%. Electric power capacity came to 1.573 million kW in 2002, with conventional thermal supplying 75% of capacity. Electric power consumption in 2002 came to 5.886 billion kWh.


Industry is geared largely to the processing of agricultural, mineral, and forest products. More than half of Myanmar industrial production is accounted for by the public sector. Principal industrial products are cement, steel, bricks and tiles, fertilizers, and processed foods. Consumer goods that were imported before 1962 and are now manufactured domestically include blankets, paper, glass products, bicycles, and water pumps. Other major consumer manufactures are aluminum ware, jute and cotton cloth, pharmaceuticals, beverages, matches, and cigarettes. There is also a growing segment engaged in the assembly of television sets and motor vehicles. The main industrial area is Bago (formerly Pegu). Some manufacturing industries are privately owned and operated under government supervision.

Industrial production grew by 9.2% in fiscal year 199596, and represented about 11% of the gross domestic product in 1997. In 1998, despite the effects of the Asian financial crisis, industrial production grew 6.1%. Growth increased to 13.8% in 1999, when an estimated 10% of the labor force was employed in the industrial sector. In 2000, it was estimated that industry constituted 17% of GDP. In 2005, industry accounted for 13% of GDP. As of 2001, approximately 7% of the labor force was engaged in industrial production. The petroleum and petrochemical sector in Myanmar is entirely state-owned (excluding indigenous fuels such as charcoal). In 2006, Myanmar had three state-owned oil refineries. The $1.2 billion natural gas pipeline connecting to Thailand began operations in 1999, and plans for a $1 billion Myanmar-Bangladesh-India gas pipeline were underway in 2006.


Scientific research is conducted by the private Burma Research Society, founded in 1910, and by the government's Central Research Organization, consisting of various departments of the state ministries. Four institutes conduct research in applied sciences, medicine, and atomic energy. In addition, the Department of Land Management Studies Research of the Institute of Economics investigates problems posed by modernization techniques and industrial development. The Universities of Mandalay, Mawlamyine, and Yangon offer degrees in basic sciences. In 198797, science and engineering students accounted for 56% of college and university enrollments.


In 1964, the Ne Win government nationalized all wholesale businesses and the large private and cooperative shops; small retail shops, hotels, restaurants, and village cooperatives were exempted. The People's Stores Corp., established in 1964, was initially responsible for the importation and distribution of essential foreign goods, the distribution of consumer goods produced in Myanmar, and the sale of domestic products in foreign markets. The corporation was administered by a council headed by the Ministry of Supplies and Cooperatives. In 1970, the "people's stores," most of which had been unsuccessful, were replaced by consumer cooperatives. Beginning in 1966, the government set all commodity prices and controlled distribution systems; in September 1987, the Burmese people were told that they could buy, sell, and store rice and other grains free of government restrictions. These liberalization measures have been most effective in the agricultural sector, although overall, the military still controls the lion's share of the economy. As of 2001, about 70% of the work force was employed in agriculture.

Although significant marketing is done at Bago (Pegu), Mandalay, Mawlamyine (Moulmein), Pathein (Bassein), Henzada, Akyab (Sittwe), and Dawei (Tavoy), Yangon (Rangoon) is Myanmar's most important business center. Myanmar's domestic economy is paralleled by a huge black market economy that co-exists with the official one; the underground economy may be twice as large as the legal economy. A factor in the decline of Myanmar's domestic production is dependence on border trade, which undermines Myanmar's manufacturing sector with cheap foreign consumer goods. Credit cards are not widely accepted.

Normal business hours are 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday; small private shops keep longer hours than government offices and enterprises. Banks are usually open 10 am to 2 pm, Monday through Friday.


It is estimated that from 1992 to 1995 the legal merchandise trade deficit (excluding military imports) grew from $412 million to $737 million. All financial estimates are suspect because of the exclusion of a large extralegal sector and substantial military imports, neither of which are included in official figures. The value of opiate exports alone may now be roughly comparable to all legal merchandise and service exports receipts. Border areas not under the control of the government also engage in unreported exports of timber, rice, jade, gems, minerals, and rare animals. Consumer goods, diesel fuel, and other products are smuggled in from Thailand, China, Malaysia, and India.

In 2004, Myanmar's primary export partners were: Thailand (38.9%), India (11.5%), China (5.9%), and Japan (5.2%). That year, the primary import partners were: China (29.8%), Singapore (20.8%), Thailand (19.3%), South Korea (5.2%), and Malaysia (4.8%).


In 2005, the government estimated the value of exports to be $2.514 billion, and that of imports to be $2.183 billion. However, the official figures are grossly underestimated due to the value of products smuggled in and out of neighboring countries. In 2005, the current-account balance was estimated at -$215 million. That year, total external debt was estimated at $6.967 billion.


Effective 23 February 1963, all 24 commercial banks in Myanmar10 foreign and 14 indigenously ownedwere nationalized and amalgamated into 4 state banks. In addition to the Central Bank of Myanmar, Union of Burma Bank, which serves as a central bank, the other state banks were the State Agricultural Bank, the State Commercial Bank, and the Industrial Bank. After subsequent reorganizations of the banking system, these became the Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank, Myanma Economic Bank, and the Myanma Foreign Trade Bank. Agricultural credit is provided by a separate Myanmar Agricultural and Rural Development Bank. Public savings increased sharply in 1977 after the banks raised interest rates. Efforts to attract the considerable liquidity in the hands of the public into the banking sector, and thence into investment, have not had much success.

By the end of 1994, licenses to open representative offices had been issued to 19 banks from overseassix from Thailand, five from Singapore, three from Malaysia, and one each from France, Indonesia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, and Bangladesh. Eventually, 54 foreign banks had offices in Myanmar, but 200002, 21 of them left the country, and nine more downgraded their operations there. As of the end of 2002, 27 foreign banks have representative offices in Burma, but none from the United States. Since

Country Exports Imports Balance
World 1,129.7 2,587.4 -1,457.7
India 214.1 72.4 141.7
China 134.7 249.5 -114.8
Singapore 129.3 725.2 -595.9
United States 89.5 91.7 -2.2
Thailand 87.9 344.1 -256.2
China, Hong Kong SAR 68.0 89.3 -21.3
Areas nes 63.8 1.1 62.7
Japan 57.6 287.6 -230.0
Malaysia 53.3 192.7 -139.4
Bangladesh 38.6 1.2 37.4
() data not available or not significant.
Current Account 49.6
     Balance on goods 577.7
         Imports -1,932.4
         Exports 2,510.1
     Balance on services -55.0
     Balance on income -601.8
     Current transfers 128.8
Capital Account
Financial Account 28.8
     Direct investment abroad
     Direct investment in Myanmar 133.5
     Portfolio investment assets
     Portfolio investment liabilities
     Financial derivatives
     Other investment assets
     Other investment liabilities -104.7
Net Errors and Omissions -39.5
Reserves and Related Items -38.9
() data not available or not significant.

1994 four private domestic banks have been permitted to conduct foreign exchange transactions for the first time. Various types of foreign exchange licenses have been issued to the private sector by the Central Bank. It issued seven authorized dealer licenses, three money changer licenses, 396 acceptor and holder licenses, and 66 FEC changer licenses in August 1994. Despite the liberalization of its economy, the country still lacks a capital market. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand depositsan aggregate commonly known as M1were equal to $103.9 billion. In that same year, M2an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual fundswas $170.7 billion. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 10%.


All 78 foreign insurance companies registered in Myanmar were nationalized on 1 March 1963. All forms of insurance, including life, fire, marine, automobile, workers' compensation, personal accident, and burglary, are handled by the Myanma Insurance Corp. Life insurance coverage is compulsory for government employees.


The government presents its budget in March for the 1 April31 March fiscal year. The public sector budget typically shows an overall deficit because of economic mismanagement.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Myanmar's central government took in revenues of approximately $523.5 million and had expenditures of $769.3 million. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$245.8 million. Total external debt was $6.967 billion.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2002, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues were k279,377 million and expenditures were k353,389

Revenue and Grants 279,377 100.0%
     Tax revenue 112,564 40.3%
     Social contributions
     Grants 358 0.1%
     Other revenue 166,455 59.6%
Expenditures 353,389 100.0%
     General public services 82,572 23.4%
     Defense 76,082 21.5%
     Public order and safety
     Economic affairs 111,058 31.4%
     Environmental protection
     Housing and community amenities 3,543 1.0%
     Health 18,852 5.3%
     Recreational, culture, and religion 2,382 0.7%
     Education 51,711 14.6%
     Social protection 7,189 2.0%
() data not available or not significant.

million. The value of revenues was us$42,501 million and expenditures us$53,760 million, based on a official exchange rate for 2002 of us$1 = k6.5734 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 23.4%; defense, 21.5%; economic affairs, 31.4%; housing and community amenities, 1.0%; health, 5.3%; recreation, culture, and religion, 0.7%; education, 14.6%; and social protection, 2.0%.


Residents pay a progressive individual income tax with a top rate of 30%. The corporate tax rate is 30% with a 10% capital gains tax (40% for nonresident companies). Indirect taxes include a commercial tax on prescribed services, ranging from 530%, and on goods, ranging from 5200%. There are also social security taxes, customs duties, royalties on natural resources, stamp tax, and property tax. The ratio of tax revenues to GDP is very low, estimated at between 2.33.6%, of which it is also estimated that 87% goes to the military.


Duties are primarily intended to raise revenue, although their financial importance is limited by the fact that the government itselfthrough its Myanmar Export-Import by far the country's predominant importer. Import licenses are required for shipment of almost anything into the country. The official exchange rate overvalues the domestic currency by 100 times. Until Myanmar joined ASEAN in July 1997, customs tariffs ranged from zero to 500%. In 1997, a new tariff schedule went into effect ranging from zero to 15% for most industrial inputs to a maximum of 40% for cars and luxury items. In spring 1998 a 10% service fee (reduced to 8% by September) was enacted on all border-trade exports.


Foreign investment in Myanmar was heavy before World War II, but in the postwar period, and particularly after independence, a government policy of economic nationalism (and later socialism) strongly discouraged private foreign investment. After the nationalization of industry in 196364, private foreign investment in Myanmar was eliminated entirely. In 1976, the government indicated a willingness to establish "mutually beneficial economic cooperation" with foreign enterprises having the technology that Myanmar needed. The scope of state capitalism was expanded when the Saw Maung regime legalized internal and external trade without giving up control of major industries.

Foreign investment in Myanmar has been permitted only since 1988 under the Union of Myanmar Foreign Investment Law, and the level and variety of investment is limited. Sectors eligible for foreign investment include manufacturing, oil and gas exploration and development, mining (except gold and precious stones), jewelry production, and agriculture. The Foreign Investment Commission (FIC) screens foreign investment proposals for export generation potential, technology transfer, and the size of the investment. Various investment incentives are provided, such as exemption from income tax, and relief or exemption from customs duties. Bureaucratic procedures and a antiquated and inadequate infrastructure hamper foreign and local investments alike. Foreign entities cannot own land in Myanmar. Foreign investors must also fear being criticized in the West for investing in a country with a long record of human rights violations. In 1996 a lawsuit was brought against Unocal for its predication in the joint venture building the natural gas pipeline with Thailand, and the forced labor and other human rights abuses connected with the construction. The Clinton administration pressured Unocal to sell its shares in the Myanmar Oil and Gas Company (MOGC). The French company Total had earlier been pressed to sell its share in MOGC to Unocal.

In 1997, Myanmar was admitted to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a step that might have relieved some of the international pressure against doing business in the country; however, in May of that year, the US government enacted restriction against new investment in Myanmar by US companies or citizens.

As of 2001, foreign investment under the liberalized regime of 1988 totaled about $7.4 billion. Of that amount, investment from the United States totaled only $582 million, with the majority, 51.35%, coming from ASEAN countries, including $1.5 billion from Singapore, $1.2 billion from Thailand, $597 million from Malaysia, $240 million from Indonesia, and $147 million from the Philippines. The United Kingdom, however, was the second-largest source of approved investments, at $1.4 billion. Investments from France and Japan totaled $470 million and $233 million, respectively.

After the Asian financial crisis, however, foreign investment dropped off considerably. Of the total, only $1.17 billion (16.8%) represents approved investment value after 1996, $673.6 million or 57.59% from ASEAN countries. In 1996/97, annual foreign investment peaked at $2.6 billion and then fell to $29.5 million in 1997/98. The continuance of the declining trend was made starkly apparent in the first six months of 2002 when investment from ASEAN members fell to zero, compared to an already-low $32.28 million from these countries in the first six months of 2001. In 2003 the government introduced a measure that stopped the issue of import and export permits to Myanmar-based foreign companies, making the regime less attractive to foreign investors. Also in 2003, the US government banned the importation of goods from Myanmar to the United States, and banned the export from the United States to Myanmar of financial services. The US also seized the assets of some Burmese entities.

According to government figures, at the end of March 2004, the total stock of inward FDI in Myanmar amounted to $7.59 billion. However, this figure does not factor in subsequent disinvestment, or investment that was approved but didn't actually enter the country. In 200304, there was an estimated 4.6% year-on-year increase in the value of new FDI approvals ($91.17 million) over 200203, in five sectors. The new investments came from Canada, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand, and the United Kingdom. As of March 2004, the countries with the largest share of FDI stock in Myanmar were: Singapore, the United Kingdom, Thailand, Malaysia, the United States, France, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Japan, and South Korea (in that order).


The major aim of Myanmar's government has been to rehabilitate, modernize, and diversify an economy that was extensively disrupted by World War II and that failed to develop from the 1940s through the 1960s. To this end, all foreign companies, all banks, the entire transport system, all foreign and much domestic trade, and all the main branches of industry were nationalized. Some nationalized industries initially showed declines in output, while others were hard pressed to hold their own. By 1974, the government had no choice but to modify some of its more rigidly Socialist economic policies. Economic development proceeded slowly under the four-year plan for 197478 and the 197882 development program, which was allocated 60% more funding than its predecessor and which achieved an annual growth rate exceeding 6%. The four-year plan for 198286, costing an estimated $5 billion, set an average annual growth target of 6.2%. The plan stressed infrastructural development, with particular emphasis on agriculture, construction, and energy production. The four-year plan for 198690 encouraged foreign investment. Since 1990, private investment has been encouraged as the government attempts to revitalize the economy.

In 2001, the government introduced its third five year short-term plan, with a targeted average growth rate of 6%. However, both continued reform and substantial foreign investment would be necessary to meet the goals of the plan. Such needed reforms include dismantling unproductive state-owned enterprises, establishing an independent state bank, making available private sector credit, controlling government spending, and adjusting the official exchange rate.

In February 2003, a major banking crisis affected the country's 20 private banks, closing them and disrupting the economy. As of yearend 2005, the largest private banks remained moribund, leaving the private sector with little formal access to credit. Burma's trade with China, Thailand, and India is increasing. Although Myanmar has relatively amicable relations with its neighbors, a better political situation and improved investment climate are needed to promote foreign investments, exports, and tourism.


Although considerable advances have been made in health services, Myanmar's goal of establishing a welfare state has been limited by lack of public funds. In 1956, the government inaugurated a social security program that compensates workers for wage losses arising from sickness, injury, and maternity leave, provides free medical care, and establishes survivors' benefits. The program is funded by contributions from employers, employees, and the government. As yet, Myanmar does not have unemployment insurance, but public employees are entitled to old age pensions.

Women have a high status in Myanmar's society and economic life. They may retain their maiden name after marriage, may obtain divorces without undue difficulty, and enjoy equal property and inheritance rights with men. Traditional views of women often prevent them from entering male dominated occupations, and they do not always receive equal pay for equal work. Domestic abuse is a problem, but there are no statistics to estimate how prevalent it is. Married women tend to live with extended families, which provides some protection from abuse.

Myanmar's military regime continues to systematically engage in human rights abuses. Prison conditions are poor and mistreatment of prisoners is widespread. Arrests are often made arbitrarily and many detainees are held incommunicado. Ethnic minorities face discrimination. Those of Muslim, Indian and Chinese descent, for example, are not free to travel domestically and are barred from certain university programs.


Until the 1980s and 1990s, few people in rural areas had the benefit of modern medicine. To correct this deficiency, the country's health services were reorganized by sending more doctors to rural areas and increasing the number of rural health centers. Doctors in private practice were inducted for two years of national service. The progress of the health services in the 1980s is reflected in the reduction of the physician/population ratio from 1 per 15,560 in 1960 to 1 per 3,578 by 1986. To staff the new hospitals and dispensaries, medical schools have been expanded, nurse and midwife training courses increased, an institute of paramedical science was established, and a new college of dentistry opened. As of 2004, there were an estimated 30 physicians, 27 nurses, 2 dentists, and 22 midwives per 100,000 people.

A team of nutritionists conducts research on the nation's diet and disseminates its findings and recommendations through the press, radio, and demonstrations in offices and factories. One result of these efforts has been that the average height and weight of Myanmar's populace have increased.

Smallpox and plague have been virtually eliminated as health hazards and programs are under way to eradicate malaria and tuberculosis. However, gastrointestinal diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, and cholera remain prevalent. One of the problems yet to be overcome is the lack of potable water for residents; in 2000, 68% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 46% had adequate sanitation. Another serious health problem is drug addiction, exacerbated by the easy availability and low cost of opium. Under a drug abuse control program financed by the United States and the UN, a new 300-bed hospital for addicts opened in 1982 at Thayetmyo, along the Irrawaddy in central Myanmar; smaller facilities have been established in about two dozen other towns.

The infant mortality rate dropped from 129.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1960 to about 63.56 in 2005, while average life expectancy rose to 60.70 years. It was estimated that 60% of the population had access to health services. Immunization was estimated to have saved 60,000 young children and averted 2.4 incidences of vaccine-preventable diseases. The immunization rates for children under one were as follows: tuberculosis, 83%; diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus, 77%; and polio, 77%. The level of measles immunization rose by more than 50% between 1988 and 1994. By 2000, 83% of children were immunized for DPT and 85% for measles.

The total fertility rate decreased from 5.1 in 1990 to 3 in 2000. The maternal mortality rate was 230 per 100,000 live births. It was estimated that 29% of children under the age of five were malnourished.

The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 1.20 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 330,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 20,000 deaths from AIDS in 2003.


Prewar housing in Myanmar compared favorably with that in other Southeast Asian nations, but housing conditions have deteriorated. The housing requirement for Yangon has been estimated at about 10,000 units needed per year, but as of 2003 average construction rates were expected to meet only about 20% of the need. In 2000, about 68% of the population had access to improved water sources and 46% of the population had access to improved sanitation. Urban dwellings are overcrowded and often unsafe. The last available statistics indicate that over 50% of all housing units were built of wood and bamboo. The government has been working on projects to alleviate homelessness and the prevalence of squatter communities in many areas by building apartment-style structures to replace hut dwellings.


The system of education initiated by the Ne Win government in 1964 equates learning with livelihood. At that time, the government announced its intention of opening at least one agrarian high school and one technical high school in each district. By 1967 there were six agricultural high schools, seven industrial trade schools, and one technical high school in the country, and the government had taken over about 880 private schools.

Education is free, although informal fees were increasingly imposed in the late 1990s. Primary education is compulsory for primary school, which covers a five-year course of study. This is followed by four years of middle school and two years of high school or technical school. Generally, Burmese is the language of instruction, and English is taught in the secondary schools; as of 1982, however, English became the medium of instruction in the universities.

In 2001, less than 2% of children between the ages of three and four were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 84% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 35% of age-eligible students. It is estimated that about 73.2% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 33:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was also about 33:1.

Postsecondary institutions include 18 teacher-training colleges, 6 agricultural institutes, 8 technical institutes, and 35 universities and colleges. All of them are state institutions. In 2001, about 12% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program; 8% for men and 15% for women. The Mass Education Council has attempted to increase literacy through special programs. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 89.7%, with 93.7% for men and 86.2% for women. However, international observers question this figure, estimating that literacy rates are much lower since up to 40% of children in rural areas do not enroll in school and those who do drop out early.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 1.3% of GDP, or 18.1% of total government expenditures.


The Myanmar National Library in Tamwe Township, founded in 1952, contains over 180,000 books. Other large libraries are the Arts and Science University Library in Mandalay, with 175,000 volumes, and the University of Yangon with 350,000 volumes. There are also several small college libraries, as well as state libraries and museums at Pathein (Bassein), Kyaukpyu, Mandalay, and Mawlamyine (Moulmein). The Myanmar Library Association was founded in 1990.

The National Museum of Art and Archaeology in Yangon was founded in 1952 and includes among its collection a replica of King Mindon's Mandalay Palace. The National Museum of Mandalay (1905) is housed in the Glass Palace and features historical relics of Burmese culture. Sometimes called the "land of golden pagodas," Myanmar also has thousands of Buddhist temples, many of which have been repaired and restored.


The director-general of posts and telegraphs controls the telephone, telegraph, radio, and postal communications systems. A satellite communications station that began operating in 1979 links Myanmar with more than 100 countries. In 2003, there were an estimated seven mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; about 102,000 people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. The same year, there was approximately one mobile phone in use for every 1,000 people.

The government provides the only radio and television transmissions through Voice of Myanmar and TVMyanmar (which broadcasts in color). As of 2004, there were 2 television stations and 1 AM and 1 FM radio stations. In 2003, there were an estimated 66 radios and 7 television sets for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were 5.6 personal computers for every 1,000 people and one of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were two secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.

Chinese- and Indian-language newspapers are not allowed by the government, but two daily papers are still published in English. Leading newspapers in 1999 included Kyemon (1999 circulation, 100,000), Myanma Alin (400,000), and The New Light of Myanmar (14,000). There are some privately published magazines, but none has a high circulation or major influence.

The government professes to uphold freedom of the press, but there are no privately owned newspapers and the print media are government-controlled. In 1963, the government established its own press agency, the News Agency of Burma, with a monopoly on internal news distribution. As of 2002, the six daily papers (with language of publication and estimated circulation figures) were: Myanmar Alin (Burmese, 400,000), Loktha Pyithu Nayzin (Burmese and English, 184,000), Kyemon (Burmese, 100,000), Botahtuang (Burmese, 96,000), The Hanthawaddy (Burmese, 23,000), and The New Light of Myanmar (English, 14,000).


Although Myanmar has most common types of educational, religious, cultural, and social organizations, those associated with capitalist economic activity have all but disappeared. The Rotary Clubs were forced by the government to disband in late 1975, as were numerous other Western-style organizations before them. There are many cooperative and producers' societies, as well as substantial numbers of consumer cooperatives.

Myanmar Medical Association promotes research and education on health issues and works to establish common policies and standards in healthcare.

The Lanzin Youth Movement, founded in 1984, is a coordinating body for all of the national youth organizations. Youth branches of the Union Solidarity and Development Association and the Myanmar Red Cross Society are extremely popular. The YMCA and YWCA are also major organizations. Several sports associations are active throughout the country. The Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association, founded in 1991, is the major social welfare organization.


Principal attractions include the palaces, Buddhist temples, and shrines in the two largest cities and in the ancient city of Pagan. River cruises are also popular. A visitor to Myanmar must have a passport and visa. Travelers are also encouraged to carry cash as credit cards are not highly accepted.

With the inception of military rule in 1988, tourism declined sharply but has risen again since 1990. The country encourages tourism, although it still remains undeveloped due to political unrest. In 2003, about 206,000 foreign visitors traveled to Myanmar There were 17,039 hotel rooms with 34,078 beds and a 20% occupancy rate. Visitors stayed an average of four nights.

The US Department of State estimated the daily cost of staying in Rangoon at $155 in 2004.


U Nu (Thakin Nu, 190795) was independent Myanmar's first premier (194862) and shares fame as founder of modern Myanmar with Aung San (191647), called the Father of the Burmese Revolution. Ne Win (Maung Shu Maung, 19112002) became premier in March 1962 and was president from 1974 to 1981. U Thant (190974) served as UN secretary-general from 1961 through 1971. Human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi (b.1946) was awarded the 1990 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament, the 1990 Thorolf Rafto Human Rights Prize by Norway, and the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

Anawrahta, who founded the early Burmese kingdom of Pagan in 1044 and established Hinayana Buddhism as the official religion, is a great figure in Burmese history, as are the Toungoo warrior-king Bayinnaung (r.155181) and Alaungpaya (r.175260), who established the dynasty that ruled Myanmar until 1886. Great writers of the Burmese past include Bhikkhu Ratthasara, author of the poem Hatthipala Pyo, on the life of Gautama Buddha; Nawedegyi and Natshinnaung, poets of the Toungoo dynasties; and Binnyadala, who wrote of the long struggles of the Burmese king of Ava. In more recent times, U Ba Nyan and U Ba Zaw, well-known painters of the 1920s, introduced Western-style art into Myanmar; both died in the 1940s.


Myanmar has no territories or colonies.


Becka, Jan. Historical Dictionary of Myanmar. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow, 1995.

Buddhism and Politics in Twentieth-Century Asia. New York: Pinter, 1999.

Burma Myanmar. 8th ed. Maspeth, NY: APA Publications, 2000.

Burma: Political Economy under Military Rule. New York: Palgrave, 2001.

Herbert, Patricia M. Burma. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Clio Press, 1991.

Leibo, Steven A. East and Southeast Asia, 2005. 38Thed. Harpers Ferry, W.Va.: Stryker-Post Publications, 2005.

Saito, Teruko and Lee Kin Kiong. Burmese Economy. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1999.

Seekins, Donald M. Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 2006.

Silverstein, Josef. The Political Legacy of Aung San. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University, 1993.

Skidmore, Monique (ed.). Burma at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005.

Win Pe. Dos and Don'ts in Myanmar. 1st ed. Bangkok, Thailand: Book Promotion and Service Ltd., 1996.

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Union of Myanmar

Major Cities:
Yangon, Mandalay

Other Cities:
Amarapura, Bassein, Bhamo, Henzada, Mogok, Moulmein, Myitkyina, Pyè, Sandoway, Sittwe, Tavoy


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report 2001 for Myanmar. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


For over half a century Myanmar (formerly Burma) has been bloodied and bowed by dictators, militia governments, and rebel factions. Successive dictators have tried (but failed) to extinguish any notion of democracy by arresting entire parliaments, suppressing any dissenting voices, and by using forced labor to prop up a failing economy.

As Myanmar moves into the 21st century, it is attempting to abandon its isolationist and socialist politics for economic pragmatism. The ruling junta is trying to perfect the juggling act of wooing foreign investment while simultaneously maintaining its vice-like grip on power. Revolutionists are split between maintaining the revolutionary rage and settling for food on the table.

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.

In 1852 Burma became a part of British India, and the British built a 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. In 1948, Burma became independent and almost immediately began to disintegrate as hill tribes, communists, Moslems, and Mons all revolted.

In 1987, massive confrontations between prodemocracy demonstrators and the military resulted in a military coup. The new leader promised elections in 1989, but the junta prevented the elected party leaders from taking office.

The Union of Burma was renamed the Union of Myanmar in 1989 in order to reflect the multi-racial make up of the country.

Agitation for reform and real democracy is still being fought on the streets of Yangon. Old guard revolutionists insist that independence can only be won through maintaining embargoes and upholding the sanctions on tourism, whereas more practical proindependent supporters find themselves agreeing that "opposing foreign aid and investment and opposing tourism is like breaking the rice bowl of the man on the street."

Because of the government's clampdown on outside influences, it is one of the least Western-influenced countries in the world. Many people mistake this for quaintness, but no one should be blinded to the political realities that created this situation.

Myanmar has some magical sights, incredibly friendly people, and offers a glimpse of a bizarre Orwellian society that has withdrawn from contact with the late 20th century.



Yangon (formerly Rangoon) is a British and Indian creation. Although Myanmar villages existed near the great Shwedagon Pagoda for many centuries, modern Yangon dates from about 1852, when it was designated the capital for British-held Lower Myanmar. British firms were brought in to develop the economy of the new colony, and Indian workers and business representatives followed in great numbers. The Myanmars remained a minority in Yangon until after independence in 1948, and even today Yangon's atmosphere is far more multiracial than that of other Myanmar cities. Yangon's population is a mixture of Myanmas, Indians, Karens, and Chinese, with a few non-Myanma ethnic groups.

The golden Shwedagon Pagoda, dominates the Yangon skyline and landscape. Located within the city are Royal Lake and Inya Lake, the shorelines of which are dotted with large, handsome houses in varying states of repair. Many of Yangon's public buildings are attractive. Streets were widened and public parks spruced up after the 1988 military takeover.


Electrical power in Myanmar is 220v, 50-cycles. Brownouts, blackouts, and voltage fluctuations are common. Telephone service is sporadic.


Imported canned goods are sold locally. Supplies are not reliable, and prices are extremely high. Fresh beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and seafood are sold but must be carefully prepared. Most fresh food items are bought in the local market. Excellent crab, shrimp, fish, and pork are available year round. Fresh vegetables available include cabbage, string beans, carrots, potatoes, squash, beets, spinach, onions, okra, eggplant, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, cauliflower, and sometimes broccoli and snow peas. Some people bring seeds for home vegetable gardens. Excellent rice is available and inexpensive. Avocados, watermelons, mangoes, papayas, pineapples, pamelos, mangosteens, strawberries, oranges, sweet limes, and tangerines can be purchased in season. Bananas and limes are sold year round.

Many items can be bought in Bangkok while out of the country, but they can be expensive and airfare is high.


Clothing should be light, summer type fashion and washable. Very few items of Western clothing are available in shops. Bring what you need with you and use mail orders for replenishment. Bangkok is the only nearby source for ready-made clothing and footwear. Tailor made wear of excellent quality is available in Bangkok and Hong Kong. Yangon has a few acceptable dressmakers, and a limited selection of Myanmar silk and cotton is available. Those expecting to participate in sports such as golf and tennis should bring appropriate clothing and footwear with them. Bring swimwear.

Men: Most wear shirts without ties or safari suits to the office. Occasional "informal" receptions call for a business suit. Social functions are "casual," with sport shirts and slacks prevailing.

Women: In the evening, dresses and skirts are worn for both casual and informal social functions. What is appropriate for social events in the U.S. will be suitable in Myanmar, except for short skirts and dresses.

Around Yangon, skirts and modest attire are expected. Some women wear nylon hose in the cooler season. Hats are not worn. Light evening wraps, shawls, or sweaters are occasionally needed during the cool season or for trips to Upper Myanmar. Umbrellas are necessary for the monsoon season and are sometimes used for sun protection. Raincoats are not practical in the tropical heat.

Children: Although the international school has no uniform dress code, dress, in general, should be in line with the Myanmar sense of modesty. Girls wear dresses, skirts, slacks, jeans. Boys wear long pants, jeans, and shorts. Shorts are needed for physical education by both boys and girls.

In high school, girls are not allowed to wear shorts to school except for physical education. They wear dresses, skirts, slacks, and jeans. Boys are allowed to wear the longer length shorts plus slacks and jeans. Sneakers, sandals, and thongs are common footwear; bring a good supply of children's shoes along with you.

Supplies and Services

Local dressmakers and tailors are satisfactory. Services are reasonable, and quality ranges from fair to excellent. Local sewing supplies such as thread, elastic, zippers, buttons, snaps, and interlining are of poor quality, and the supply is limited.

Laundry is usually done in the home by a maid. Good dry cleaning is available. Some personnel carry their dry cleaning along on occasional trips to Bangkok, Singapore, or Hong Kong and have it done there.

A few hairdressers are available, but styling, cutting, and cleanliness are below par. Bring any special preparations needed for hair care. Electrical appliance repair is poor; spare parts are not available.

Domestic Help

Servants' wages are reasonable. For a family, the staff usually includes a cook/bearer who cooks, serves meals, and cleans; a wash nanny to do washing and ironing; and a gardener. A driver is also helpful, particularly if children must be taken to school. A family with small children may also need a nanny to care for the children. The employer traditionally assumes responsibility for the health and welfare of servants, and often of their families.

Religious Activities

Yangon has Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Armenian, and Seventh-day Adventist churches, a Jewish synagogue, and a Jehovah's Witnesses Assembly Hall. English services are conducted regularly.


The International School of Yangon (ISY) is a private, coeducational day school that offers an educational program from prekindergarten through grade 12 for students of all nationalities. The curriculum is that of a standard college preparatory U.S. elementary, middle, or high school. Students at the elementary level (grades 1 to 5) have daily classes in English (reading, writing, speaking, and listening), mathematics, social studies (geography, history, and social science), and science. These classes are usually taught by the homeroom teachers. Students at the middle-school level (grades 6 to 8) begin a transition to high school. They study the same subjects as in elementary school, but may be taught by different, subject specialist teachers. Students at the high school level (grades 9 to 12) earn credits each semester in order to accumulate at least 21 credits over 4 years and earn a high school diploma. Music, art, computer studies, and physical education are offered at all grade levels. English-as-a second-language, is offered to students in grades 3 to 12.

Students in the upper grades have the opportunity to study French and Spanish as foreign languages. The testing program includes the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (grades 3-8) and the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency (grades 9-11). The PSAT, SAT, and TOEFL exams are regularly offered.

College Entrance: 95% of ISY graduates attend a 4-year college.

Recent graduates have matriculated at Bradley University, University of San Francisco, King's college, Ithaca College, Duquesne University, Syracuse University, Tufts University, Purdue University, Colorado School of Mines, Texas' Women University, University of Houston, State University of New York, Hamilton College, Fordham University, Queen's University, McGill University, Carnegie Mellon University, Duke University, Cornell University, Bucknell University, University of Pacific, Tulane University, Colorado College, University of California Santa Cruz.

ISY is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and by the East Asia Regional Council of Overseas Schools.

There were 46 full-time and 3 part-time faculty members at the beginning of the 1999-2000 school year, including 30 U.S. citizens, 15 host country nationals, and 4 third-country nationals.

Enrollment at the beginning of the 1999-2000 school year was 342 (pre-kindergarten through grade 12), including 40 U.S. citizens, 108 host country nationals and 194 children of other nationalities.

The school is governed by a 9-mem-ber Board of Management. Eight members are elected for 2-year terms by the Parents Association, the sponsors of the school. Membership in the association is automatically conferred on the parents or guardians of children enrolled in the school. One member of the Board of Management represents the U. S. Ambassador. ISY is in practice sponsored by the US. Embassy. The school is nonprofit and nonsectarian. It is unofficially permitted to operate by the Myanmar Government.

The school consists of six buildings on a 4-acre site in a residential area of Yangon. It has a well-equipped library, two music rooms, 2 art rooms, 2 computer rooms, 2 science laboratories and a multipurpose room. All indoor facilities are air-conditioned. There is a playground, a playing field, and 2 basketball/volleyball courts. No boarding facilities are available.

Annual tuition rates for 2000-2001 are as follows: prekindergarten; $1,706, kindergarten; $5,640, and grades 1 to 12, $7,890. These fees are payable in U.S. dollars only. There is a registration fee of $1,000, payable by each new student. In addition, a capital fee of $4,000 per new student (grades 1-12) is levied. The capital fee for kindergarten is $1,000. If a child has paid $1,000 in kindergarten, he/she will be asked to pay the remaining $3,000 when he/she enters first grade. Fees are payable by semester.

The school year is divided into two semesters. In 2000-2001, the dates are August 9-December 22 and January 15-May 30. Classes meet Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. After-school activities often extend the day to 3:30 p.m. or later.

Special Educational Opportunities

Art classes are available by excellent Myanmar artists, but bring your own supplies. Local special meditation centers accept foreigners as students. Private tutoring can also be arranged for various foreign languages and for piano and guitar lessons. Inexpensive guitars are available locally but are of poor quality, and pianos can be rented but their quality ranges from fair to poor.

Burmese-language classes are available as are private tutors are available.


Yangon's climate and facilities make outdoor sports possible and enjoyable except during the 2-3 months of heavy monsoon. Almost every sport is available in Yangon.

From November to March, softball is a major part of the sports scene. The AERA sponsors a slow-pitch league with men's and women's divisions, and the international and Myanmar communities field teams. There are also T-Ball and softball leagues for children ages 5-13. Bring shoes, gloves, and caps. Metal cleats are not permitted. The leagues play their games on the weekends and provide a spectator sport for the whole community.

In May, volleyball succeeds the softball season at the AERA Club. The game is enjoyed by most of the American and international community.

Tennis is very popular among the American and international community. Tennis is played mainly at American homes or compounds with courts. Good tennis racquets are sold locally. Tennis shoes wear out rapidly on the cement courts. Excellent instruction is available at reasonable fees.

Two 18-hole golf courses, the Myanmar Golf Club and the Yangon Golf Club, are located 10 miles and 16 miles, respectively, from downtown. Clubs, gloves, and bags are not available, but golf balls are sold occasionally at the course. Golfers should bring umbrellas, canvas shoes, and moisture-proof shoes as the courses are very wet during the rainy season. Instruction is inexpensive and good.

The Yangon Sailing Club on Inya Lake provides small sailboats, 12-foot Sharpies and 14-foot Raters, for members. Old hands are willing to help beginners. Races are held weekly.

The Yangon Riding Club is located at the Kyaikkasan Grounds about 3-4 miles from downtown Yangon. English riding instruction is available from Myanmar riding masters. The horses and livery are not the best however. Another riding Club is situated downtown by the Mingala Market. It is not recommended for beginners as the horses are not well trained.

Myanmar travel regulations severely limit available hunting areas, and permission to import firearms is extremely difficult to obtain. Bird watching opportunities are good, but vary seasonally and by location. Despite travel restrictions in more remote areas, dry-season viewing is good at the Moyhingyi bird sanctuary, Hlawgar Reservoir near Yangon, at Pagan, and at the Botanic Gardens at Maymyo, among other places.

Individual hobbies and interests are more important here than in the U.S. A quilting and sewing group of ladies gather on a regular basis. Bring all hobby supplies as little is available locally. The International School has a good library for a school of its size; the British Embassy library also has some children's books. Families should include a supply of children's books in their effects. Bring along a TV and VCR (VHS type) for additional home entertainment.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Travelers, except those on tourist visas, who wish to tour up country must submit their plans to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 10 workdays in advance. Government approval can sometimes be obtained and arrangements made for large groups to rent riverboats for a day's trip.

Because Yangon is not typical of Myanmar, visits to other points of interest are recommended. Mandalay, the last capital of the Myanmar kings, still retains historical and cultural interest. It is reached by plane (55 minutes). Air schedule reliability varies. Travel by car to Mandalay takes 14-16 hours over poor roads. It is a 14-17 hour trip by overnight train-the rail bed is rough.

Many places of historic, cultural, and artistic interest are in Mandalay or within easy driving distance. Ancient and modern pagodas dot the landscape, particularly in Sagaing, across the Irrawaddy River, and Ava and Amarapura, all former Myanmar capitals. Photography buffs can find many interesting scenes.

Maymyo, a British hill station and summer capital before independence, is in the mountains 42 miles northeast of Mandalay and provides a welcome relief from Mandalay heat. Maymyo has an excellent 18-hole golf course, and tennis is also popular in the area.

Pagan, the ancient capital during the golden era of Myanmar history (C.E. 10th-13th centuries), is the site of hundreds of pagodas, many in ruins, but many still preserved as religious and cultural monuments. It may be reached by a daily flight from Yangon (1-1/4 hours). For hardy adventurers, Pagan can be reached by river steamer from Mandalay (12 hours).

The other hill station of Kalaw and the Shan Plateau town of Taunggyi have cooler temperatures than Yangon and Mandalay and offer lovely mountain scenery and colorful market/bazaars. Taunggyi may be reached by plane (1 hour, 20 minutes) from Yangon, plus a 45-minute bus ride. Kalaw, approached on the same plane ride, requires 2 hours by bus. Inle Lake lies slightly to the south. Its villages and pagodas, which are built on the lake are a favorite tourist spot. Sandoway, on the Arakan coast, is Myanmar's finest accessible beach and is popular with both Myanmar and Westerners. Regular flights, 4 days a week, are available to Sandoway (45 minutes). However, during the beach season the Tourist Agency makes a special arrangement with the Airways Corporation to accommodate passengers, and flights are available daily but schedules are irregular.

Another seaside resort is Chaung Tha in the Bassein District. This place is conveniently accessible by road. One can drive in either private or rented vehicles. The journey takes approximately 7 hours and is open daily during the summer season. During the rainy season the road is rough. This seaside beach was recently opened by the host government and is popular with Myanmars and foreigners. Accommodations are available and fairly modest.

Regional places of interest outside Myanmar include Bangkok, Penang, Angkor Wat, Kuala Lumpur, Bali, Cameron Highlands, Jakarta, Singapore, Calcutta, New Delhi, and Kathmandu. Sightseeing in Yangon should include the numerous pagodas as well as local shops and bazaars and the various artisans who hand-fashion Myanmar goods. Children enjoy the zoo. An interesting circular train trip around Yangon takes 2 hours.

During the year several colorful festivals are held, such as the Festival of Lights and the 4-day Water Festival (when everyone gets drenched). Other interesting cultural events are the Indian fire-walking ceremonies, the Myanmar pwes (plays), Myanmar dancing, and puppet shows.

Myanmar is a Buddhist country, and visitors are expected to show respect to the Buddhist pagodas and Buddhist monks, easily identified by their saffron robes. Visitors to pagodas must remove shoes and socks before entering roofed walk-ways on grounds leading to the pagodas.

The photographer will find many interesting scenes in Myanmar. Local processing of black and white and color film is good. Batteries and other camera accessories are not normally available locally.


Six movie theaters in Yangon feature Myanmar, Indian, European, Chinese, Japanese, and American films. Projection equipment is good, but theaters are hot and uncomfortable, and the doors are locked during the shows, which in case of fire, would be extremely dangerous.

Social Activities

The American community in Yangon consists mainly of Embassy personnel and teachers at the school and their dependents. A few Americans are assigned to Myanmar by various U.N. agencies and NGOs. The total American community, including children, does not exceed 180.

Much of the community's social life centers around the AERA Club facilities, the Australian Club and the British Club. Numerous hotels around town also offer an alternative to the Clubs. These facilities are supplemented by extensive home entertaining.

Yangon's two golf clubs and the sailing club provide pleasant surroundings for meeting Myanmar and third country nationals. The International Cultural Group, an organization of Myanmar women and Embassy wives, sponsors a wide spectrum of activities with an international flavor. The U.N. Women's Association offers a way to make contact with a wide variety of expatriates and local women.


Mandalay was founded as a new royal capital (replacing Amarapura) in 1860, and the picturesque palace walls and side moat still are near the heart of the city. Even though Mandalay did not long endure as the last royal capitalit was taken over by the British when they annexed all of Upper Myanmar in 1886it remains a major center of the country's cultural and religious life.

Moreover, with its location on the Irrawaddy River near the geographic center of Myanmar, and its urban population which is close to 535,000, Mandalay, Myanmar's second largest city, is the most important administrative, commercial, and political city in the northern section of the country. Situated over 400 miles north of Yangon, the climate is both hotter and drier than that of the capital. Mandalay was heavily damaged during World War II, when shelling destroyed the royal palace and several pagodas.

Life is relatively relaxed in Mandalay, more attuned to the pace of the horse cart than to the automobile. Few Westerners live in the city. There are no bright lights, but for people who can forgo some of the Western amenities and adjust to its slower tempo, Mandalay has a certain quiet charm and hospitality. It provides an intimate glimpse into an Asian society.

There are many places of historic, cultural, and artistic interest in Mandalay or within easy driving distance. The city is noted for the Arakan pagoda, which is built around an ancient shrine. Ancient and modern pagodas dot the landscape, particularly in Sagaing, across the Irrawaddy River, and in Ava and Amarapura, which were all former royal capitals. Photography buffs can find many interesting scenes. A group of sacred buildings called the Seven Hundred and Thirty Pagodas was built during the reign of King Mindon, 1853-1878. Maymyo, a British hill station and summer capital before independence, is in the mountains 42 miles northeast of Mandalay, and provides a welcome relief from Mandalay's heat. Maymyo has an excellent 18-hole golf course, and tennis is also popular in the area.

Modest accommodations in hotels or government-owned circuit houses are available at some tourist spots. Trips to other parts of Myanmar, and overnight stops between Yangon and Mandalay or Kalaw present some difficulties.


AMARAPURA is located on the Irrawaddy River in central Myanmar, just south of Mandalay and 325 miles north of Yangon. Founded in 1782, Amarapura was the capital of Myanmar from 1783 to 1823 and, again, from 1837 to 1860, and is considered one of the country's oldest centers of civilization. The city's royal palace, magnificent temples, and fortifications are in ruins. Today, with an estimated population exceeding 150,000, Amarapura is a silk-weaving center with various handicraft industries.

BASSEIN is located in southern Myanmar, about 85 miles west of Yangon. Situated at the western edge of the Irrawaddy Delta, it is accessible by large vessels and is one of Myanmar's chief ports. A rice-milling and export center, with 145,000 residents, Bassein also handles teak and bamboo. A fort was established here by the British in 1852. The city was occupied by the Japanese during World War II.

BHAMO , situated in northeastern Myanmar on the Irrawaddy River, is the head of navigation on the river. Important for its ruby mines, Bhamo is also the market town for the surrounding hill region. Located 175 miles north of Mandalay, Bhamo was historically significant as a center for overland trade with China. During World War II, the Stillwell Road linked Bhamo to Ledo, India. The population is estimated at more than 25,000.

HENZADA is the capital of Henzada District, 75 miles northwest of Yangon. It is connected by rail with Bassein. Henzada is the center of rice and tobacco cultivation.

MOGOK , about 65 miles north of Mandalay, is a small town known as the centuries-old center of the country's ruby trade.

MOULMEIN , the country's third largest city, is located in southeastern Myanmar almost directly across the Gulf of Martaban from Yangon. Moulmein has a population of 220,000 and, as a river port and commercial center, it has shipyards and teak mills. The chief town of British Myanmar, Moulmein is one of the few places where trained elephants are still used in lumber mills.

MYITKYINA is located on the Irrawaddy River in northern Myanmar, near the Chinese border, and about 240 miles north of Mandalay. The most important town in northern Myanmar, Myitkyina is a trade center for teak and jade, as well as the extreme northern terminus of a railroad line from Yangon. It was captured by Allied troops in August 1944 after a 78-day siege, marking a turning point in Myanmar's liberation from the Japanese. The population is estimated at more than 20,000.

PYÈ (also called Prome) is located on the Irrawaddy River in south central Myanmar, about 240 miles south of Mandalay and 150 miles north of Yangon. Pyè is one of the oldest cities in Myanmar, founded in the eighth century; it became part of British Myanmar in 1852. Today, Pyè has an estimated population of more than 80,000, and is a commercial town and port, with railroad connections to Yangon. Visitors can see the ruins of ancient Pyè near the modern city.

SANDOWAY , on the Arkan coast, is the finest accessible beach in Myanmar, and is popular with both the Myanma people and Westerners. Daily flights are available during the tourist season, which usually lasts from November through May.

SITTWE , formerly called Akyab, is located on the Bay of Bengal, 325 miles northwest of Yangon. Originally a small fishing village, it became a port for exporting rice after being occupied by the British in 1826. Sittwe has a population of approximately 108,000. Sittwe is an important port and rice-milling center.

TAVOY , situated on the left bank of the Tavoy River, is about 160 miles west of Bangkok, Thailand. The city is an important port and exports tin ore.


Geography and Climate

Myanmar (also known as Burma), with an area of 262,000 square miles (slightly smaller than Texas), is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia. Yangon (also called Rangoon), the capital (population about 5.5 million), is Myanmar's largest city. Mandalay (population 700,000) is second. Myanmar's population is about 49 million.

Yangon is Myanmar's most important port for both domestic and foreign trade. Located on the Yangon River, 30 miles north of the Gulf of Martaban, it serves not only ocean-going freighters and tankers but also river steamers and country craft that ply Yangon's major waterways. The city is built on flat lowland bounded on three sides by the Pazundaung Creek and the Yangon and Hlaing Rivers. The surrounding countryside consists of rice paddies, patches of brush, and occasional rubber plantations.

Located in the Southeast Asian monsoon belt, Yangon has a tropical climate with three distinct seasons: monsoon, cool, and hot. During the monsoon season, mid-May through mid-October, Yangon receives most of its 100-inch plus average annual rainfall. Temperatures are moderate (75°F-90°F), but relative humidity is high. During the monsoon, dampness and mildew can cause serious damage to clothing, furniture, books, records, electrical appliances, and leather goods.

In mid-November, after a brief period of warm, humid weather, the cool season begins from then until March, weather is pleasant (60°F-90°F) with lower humidity and almost no rain. Days are sunny and clear; nights are cool. In March, temperatures and humidity rise until the monsoon begins in mid-May. During the March-May hot season, the weather is hot and humid, usually rising in the day to over 100°F. As at most tropical posts, insects and snakes are numerous year round.


Most of Myanmar's 42 million people are ethnic Myanmas. Shans, Karens, Kachins, Chins, Mons, and many other smaller indigenous ethnic groups form about 30% of the population. Indians and Chinese are the largest foreign groups. Although Burmese is the most widely spoken language, other ethnic groups have retained their own languages. Many people in Yangon speak English. The Indian and Chinese residents speak various languages and dialects of their homelands: Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Bengali, Mandarin, Fukienese, and Cantonese. The variety of racial types, languages, customs, and other cultural manifestations creates a cosmopolitan atmosphere. About a hundred non-U.S. Government Americans and 60 U.S. Government employees and dependents live in Myanmar. Yangon's diplomatic community includes employees of the U.N. and its specialized agencies and officials from 26 embassies.

Public Institutions

The Union of Myanmar consists of 14 states and divisions. Administrative control is exercised from the central government at Yangon through a system of subordinate executive bodies.

The people of Myanmar continue to live under a highly repressive, authoritarian military regime. The international community widely condemns that regime for its serious human rights abuses. The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), Myanmar's ruling military junta since 1997, has made no significant changes in the governing policies of its predecessor, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which seized power in 1988. Elections for a civilian government were held in May 1990. Although the National League for Democracy (NLD) won over 80% of the parliamentary seats, the military refused to cede power to the civilian government. Instead the SLORC and the SPDC have attacked the coalition of winning parties and their leaders through intimidation, detention and arrests. The military government appears determined to ensure a dominant role for the military services in the country's future political structure.

Arts, Science, and Education

The population of Myanmar includes seven major ethnic groups and a number of smaller groups. Almost 70% are Burmese, a Tibeto-Mongolian people. The myths, traditions, and religions derive largely from India and have mixed with folk traditions of Myanmar's varied peoples to form a unique Myanma culture. The merger of Hindu and Buddhist influences is seen in the ruins of Pagan and in the dramatic fine arts of today, which include music, dance, puppetry, painting, tapestry, and sculpture.

Myanmar's long and continuing isolation has degraded its scientific resources and capacity. Although medical schools continue to produce medical personnel with basic knowledge, the public health system has deteriorated because of under funding and neglect. Two major technical universities (plus a military science and technology school) have engineering programs, but facilities and resources are old and outdated.

Myanmar has 105 institutions of higher learning, including 16 universities, 4 professional institutes, 9 degree-granting colleges, 10 intermediate colleges, and 19 education colleges under the Ministry of Education. Other ministries administer institutes of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, animal husbandry and veterinary science, agriculture, and forestry. Many of the universities and colleges, however, have been closed for lengthy periods during the 1990s. More than two thirds of the university population is now in distance learning programs. Instruction is in English or Burmese, depending on the subject. Few foreigners attend Burmese institutions of higher learning. Those who are admitted generally attend the University of Foreign Languages and study some aspect of the Burmese language. A university for the propagation of Theravada Buddhism has opened and encourages enrollment by foreigners interested in Buddhism.

Commerce and Industry

Myanmar is a resource-rich country with a strong agricultural base. It also has vast timber and fishery reserves and is a leading source of gems and jade. Tourist potential is great but remains undeveloped because of weak infrastructure and Myanmar's pariah state international image, due to the junta's human rights abuses and oppression of the democratic opposition.

Long-term economic mismanagement under military rule has prevented the economy from developing in line with its potential. Myanmar experienced 26 years of socialist rule under Dictator General Ne Win from 1962-1987. In 1988 the economy collapsed and prodemocracy demonstrators took to the streets. The military junta that assumed control, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), violently put an end to the civil unrest and pledged to move toward a market based economy. Although significant economic reforms resulting in strong private sector growth were enacted in the early 1990s, the state remains heavily involved in economic policy and additional, much needed reforms have not been forthcoming. The benefits of economic liberalization have not been widely shared. The vast majority of Burmese nationals subsist on a standard of living not much different from 10 years ago. Also, rampant inflation caused primarily by public sector deficit spending has eroded economic gains for many persons.

After the military junta disavowed the results of the 1990 parliamentary election, which was won overwhelmingly by the National League for Democracy led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the U.S. imposed a host of broad-reaching sanctions against the regime. The U.S. opposes the extension of international financial assistance to Myanmar, prohibits military sales, suspended economic aid and commercial assistance programs, banned the issuance of U.S. visas to members of the military elite, and downgraded our representation in Yangon from Ambassador to Charge. In 1997, by Executive Order, the President banned new U.S. investment in Myanmar. In additional to Federal sanctions, 26 state and local governments have enacted selective purchasing laws that penalize companies doing business in Myanmar. A number of other countries, including the EU, Canada, Australia, Japan and Korea have enacted some form of sanctions against the regime.

Myanmar remains a primarily agricultural economy with 43% of GDP derived from agriculture, livestock and fisheries, and forestry. Manufacturing constitutes only 9% of recorded economic activity, and state industries continue to play a large role in that sector. Services now constitute nearly 19% of GDP. According to official figures, GDP growth averaged over 5% annually throughout the 1990s. However, inflation exceeded 30% in many of those years. Myanmar runs a growing annual trade deficit, and foreign exchange reserves are in short supply.

The government continues to monopolize key sectors, including international rice and timber sales. Efforts to privatize state industries have been largely halted in recent years. In the past few years, the military has strengthened its hold over the economy through the activities of Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (MEHL). These two military conglomerates control a large portion of private sector activity, including a number of key joint venture corporations. The military suspended independent audits of MEC and MEHL in 1999.

Under the military junta (renamed the State Peace and Development Council in 1997), the move to a market economy appears to have favored crony capitalism. A handful of companies loyal to the regime has enjoyed policies that promote monopoly and privilege among few. For example, the National Entrepreneurs, about 20 construction companies that signed on to develop farmlands, were given special vehicle import permits and discounted interest rates on commercial loans in FY 98/99. Companies not in league with the military leadership have found it preferable to keep a low profile.

Economic growth slowed considerably after FY 96-97. Foreign investment approvals declined by 98% in FY 98-99, due in part to the effects of the Asian financial crisis. The economy continues to suffer from severe macro-economic imbalances due primarily to faulty economic management. The official exchange rate overvalues the Burmese kyat by 54 times the market rate, causing serious distortions in economic accounts and official data. The government maintains a loose monetary policy, cutting the interest rate three times in the past 2 years to prime the economy despite rampant inflation. Interest rates are sharply negative in real terms. General Maung Aye, Commander in Chief of the Armed Services, has executed growing control over trade and regulatory policy via the Trade Policy Council, an extraministerial committee overseeing economic policy. Since 1998, trade policy has become more restrictive. Due to various disagreements with Thailand, the Myanmar-Thai border has been shut down for months at a time on several occasions.

During the past 10 years of military rule, socioeconomic indicators have shown scant improvement. According to the World Bank, per capita income is about $300. The number of families in absolute poverty is nearly 23%. Only 60% of the population have access to safe drinking water. Malnutrition, infant and maternal mortality all remain miserably high. The military government has dedicated fewer and fewer resources to health and education. Government expenditures on these two sectors combined total only 1.2% of GDP. In contrast, 40% of the government ministries budgets is dedicated to defense.

Singapore is the largest investor in Myanmar, with concerns concentrated in hotels and tourism and light manufacturing, such as beverages and tobacco. Thailand is another large investor. Western investment in Myanmar has focused largely on the extractive industries of oil and natural gas, and mining. The single largest foreign investment in the country is the $1.2 billion Yadana natural gas pipeline from the offshore Yadana natural gas reserve to Thailand. That investment is operated by Total Fina of France, and is jointly owned with UNOCAL of the U.S., PTT of Thailand, and Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE). A second offshore natural gas pipeline to Thailand, the Yetagun pipeline, is still under construction. It is operated by Premier Petroleum of the UK and is coowned by a consortium involving Nippon of Japan, PTT of Thailand, Petronas of Malaysia, and MOGE.

Myanmar exports primarily commodities, with pulses and beans, prawns and seafood, teak and hardwoods, sesame seeds, corn and rubber accounting for 50% of annual export earnings. In recent years, the production of pulses and beans, a largely free-market crop, has soared. Rice production and trade, which is heavily regulated by the state, has not shown similar gains. Uncut teak logs remain a top export.

Foreign trade has expanded since most trade was privatized and cross-border trade was legalized in late 1988, but Myanmar continues to operate a large trade deficit. Myanmar's chief trading partners are Singapore, Japan, Thailand, China, and Bangladesh. The U.S. has a minor trading relationship with Myanmar. However, Myanmar's exports of garments and textiles to the US. has more than doubled in the past 2 years, reaching $186 million in FY 98/99.

Labor unions have been forbidden since the 1988 military takeover. Myanmar is under investigation by the International Labor Organization (ILO) for its forced labor practices.



Cars older than 10 years may not be imported. Smaller cars and four-door cars have a better resale value. Fuel-injected vehicles are not recommended. Air-conditioning is a must. Cars shipped to Myanmar should have good tires and a good battery, since replacements are difficult to find, take time to receive, and are costly to ship.

Those shipping a car should bring a factory handbook and a supply of spare parts, including spark plugs, fan belts, ignition kits, oil and air filters, wiper blades, and a carburetor kit. Repair parts are not always available in Yangon but can be ordered or obtained from Bangkok, Singapore, Tokyo or the U.S. Local mechanics vary in ability from poor to good. Many are skilled in "make do" repairs that keep vehicles operating when parts are not available.


Buses are unsafe and overcrowded. Taxis are available, not necessarily safe, and rates must be negotiated.


Mingaladon Airport, about 13 miles (30 minutes) from the Embassy in downtown Yangon, has domestic and international flights. Airlines servicing Myanmar are Myanmar Airways (UB), Thai Airways (TG) and Silk Air (MI), plus 4-5 smaller airlines with regional flights. UB and TG have daily flights to and from Bangkok, but flight confirmations usually cannot be made from the U.S. because of the lack of a computer system.

Internal air service is available but risky. Only Mandalay Air and Yangon Air are approved for USG travelers. Travel by car and train is possible in the dry season, but roads and rail tracks are subject to wash-out in the rainy season. Gasoline available outside of Yangon is leaded and 80-82 octane.


Telephone and Telegraph

International, in-country and local telephone service in Myanmar is unreliable and expensive. For example, an International call to the U.S. ranges between $4.50-$7 per minute depending where the call is made, i.e., hotels charge the most to make a call. Calls to neighboring Asian countries average $2.00 per minute. However, the general condition of the country's outdated telecommunications infrastructure is poor, and desperately needs upgrading to meet the demands of a capital city. The current system that services Yangon barely copes with current demand. Additionally, the heavy monsoon rains that fall between May and September only make matters worse. Unfortunately, there are no known plans by the government to modernize its telephone infrastructure to improve telephone service within Myanmar.

However, according to the government-controlled Myanmar Times, GSM cellular telephone service is scheduled for implementation. This same newspaper article reads that Myanmar Public Telephone (MPT), will be selling the cellular handsets for approximately $1,500 each. Air-time is not included.

Facsimile service is available at major hotels. Fax service has proved relatively reliable considering the condition of the telephone transmission lines. International fax messages are charged the same rates as an international call.

E-mail service is available locally for home or business use for roughly $2 per hour. The initial cost for E-mail in one's home or office is roughly $250. This fee includes modem and software.


The international mail system is slow: 2 to 3 weeks for letter mail, plus pilferage and censorship are common.

Radio and TV

Shortwave radio reception in Myanmar is satisfactory. Multiband portable receivers can pick up VOA, BBC, Radio Australia, and other international broadcasts. Radio Myanmar is the only station in Myanmar. It broadcasts in English 2-112 hours daily and is limited to brief international news and music.

Myanmar has limited TV service with broadcasting of about 5 hours each night, and on weekends, an additional 2 hours in the morning, and 3 hours in the afternoon. Locally produced programming is in Burmese, with a short satellite news segment and a feature entertainment program in English. Broadcasting is in the U.S. NTSC system and usually in color.

Videotapes are very popular in Yangon and there are numerous video stores eager for your business. However, the tape quality from these shops is poor, but the tapes are inexpensive to rent. Tapes from the Local rental shops use both NTSC and the PAL format.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals

One English-language daily newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, offers limited international news, highly censored local coverage, and much propaganda. The Myanmar Times and Business Report is published weekly and offers thinly veiled propaganda and some economic, cultural, and social news. The monthly Today magazine provides stories and information useful for foreign visitors and residents in Myanmar. The International Herald Tribune, Time, Newsweek, Far Eastern Economic Review, and Asia Week are sold locally for hard currency at a few selected locations, but are occasionally censored when stories refer to Myanmar.

Yangon has a few used book shops, which carry outdated English-language books and periodicals. The American Center Information Resource Center has a collection of historical books on Myanmar and materials on the U.S. The British Council and Alliance Frangaise also have libraries. Unfortunately, Internet is still not available in Myanmar, so online ordering is not possible.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Yangon hospitals are crowded. Suboptimal in sanitation, physical plants are in poor condition and emergency equipment is sparse and primitive in nature. Regional evacuation points are Bangkok and Singapore depending on severity of patient's condition.

There are two expatriate clinics in Yangon:

(1) SOS International is situated at The New World Inya Lake Hotel, #37, Kaba Aye Pagoda Road. It offers the following core services: 24-hour alarm center; family medicine practice and outpatient facility; pharmacy; X-ray facility; specialist consultations and referrals; 24-hour emergency medical unit; emergency medical evacuation. It is staffed by one expatriate doctor and three local doctors. Recently, however, SOS International has advised that they are reducing operations and cutting staff.

(2) Pacific Medical Center is situated at #81, Kaba Aye Pagoda Road. They also have a pharmacy; Lab; X-ray facility and dental clinic. It is staffed by three local doctors and specialists for consultation when required. It opens for 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. from Monday to Saturday.

Dental care is available in Yangon, but in general, it is substandard. Significant dental problems for which treatment cannot be delayed are sent to Bangkok. Travel and minimum per diem are provided when justified. A recent exam and all necessary dental work should be completed before arrival in Yangon. Yangon has two dental clinics run by a foreign-trained orthodontist.

Community Health

Local sanitation and health conditions are poor. All water must be boiled and filtered to make it potable. Fecal-oral disease transmission is a major public health concern in Myanmar.

Local dairy products are not considered safe. Most Americans buy canned or powdered milk from the commissary. Local fruits and vegetables should be scrubbed and soaked in a Clorox solution. Local restaurants do not maintain U.S. levels of sanitation.

The health of servants is important in maintaining family health. Pre-employment physicals, immunizations, and constant health supervision are strongly recommended.

Preventive Measures

The only required immunization for entry into Myanmar is yellow fever, and then only if coming from endemic areas of South America or Africa. Immunizations recommended for Myanmar (in addition to those given in the U.S.) are: hepatitis B, Japanese B encephalitis, typhoid, rabies, and Hepatitis. A. All can be received at post.

Bacillary and amoebic dysentery are prevalent. A variety of intestinal roundworms and other parasites commonly infect people. Careful food preparation, strict personal hygiene, supervision of the cleanliness and health of servants, and avoidance of local restaurants help reduce opportunities for infections.

Myanmar's increasing prevalence of tuberculosis (a result of overcrowding and taxing of public utilities), makes use of public transportation, movie theaters, restaurants, etc., unduly hazardous. Increased contamination during the early part of the very heavy monsoon season gives rise to increases in many diseases each June and July. Because of the presence of several varieties of poisonous snakes and endemic rabies (beware of stray dogs), anti-venom and rabies vaccines are available in the Medical Unit.

Malaria is a serious problem in the rural areas of Myanmar, but transmission occurs very rarely in Yangon. No drug prophylaxis is necessary in Yangon or most of the usual tourist sites in the country. Prophylaxis is necessary in some areas. Dengue, another mosquito-borne disease, occurs throughout the country, including Yangon, and protective measures to avoid mosquito bites should be used. The peak season of dengue hemorrhagic fever is June-July and again in November-December. Health Unit supplies mosquito nets, repellents and Malaria Prophylactic Medications.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Jan. 4 Independence Day

Feb. 12 Union Day

Mar. Full moon of Tabaung*

Mar. 2 Peasants' Day

Mar. 27 Armed Forces Day

Apr. Thingyan (Water Festival)*

Apr. 17 Myanmar New Year

Apr/May Full Moon of Kason*

June/July Full moon of Waso*

July Buddhist Lent begins*

July 19 Martyrs' Day

Sept/Oct. Full Moon of Thadingyut*

Oct. Buddhist Lent ends*

Oct/Nov. Full moon of Tazaungmon*

Nov. Tazaungdaing (Full Moon festival)*

Nov. 13 National Day

Dec. 25 Christmas Day


Id al-Adha*

Id al-Fitr*



Passage, Customs & Duties

Most arrive in Yangon by air. American carriers must be used for as much of the journey as possible. The most commonly used transfer point is Bangkok, where an overnight stop is usually necessary. Only Thai Airlines and Myanmar International Airways fly to Yangon from Bangkok.

Travel to, from and within Myanmar is strictly controlled by the Government of Myanmar. A passport and visa are required. Travelers are required to show their passports with valid visa at airports, train stations and hotels. There are frequent security roadblocks on all roads and immigration checkpoints in Myanmar, even on domestic air flights.

Upon entry into Myanmar, tourists are required to exchange a minimum of $200 (U.S.) for Foreign Exchange Certificates (FEC). The FEC office is located between Immigration and Customs. The face value of the FEC, issued in denominations from one to 20 dollar equivalents, is equal to the U.S. dollar, but its actual value fluctuates. Any amount over $200 (U.S.) may be exchanged back to U.S. dollars. The first $200 (U.S.) cannot be exchanged back into U.S. dollars. These procedures are subject to change without notice.

The military government rarely issues visas to journalists, and several journalists traveling to Myanmar on tourist visas have been denied entry. Journalists, and tourists mistaken for journalists, have been harassed. Some journalists have had film and notes confiscated upon leaving the country.

Information about entry requirements as well as other information may be obtained from the Embassy of the Union of Myanmar, 2300 S Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone 202-332-9044/6, or the Permanent Mission of Myanmar to the U.N. 10 East 77th St., New York, N.Y. 10021, telephone 212-535-1311. Overseas inquiries may be made at the nearest embassy or consulate of Myanmar (Burma).

Unrestricted travel exists to the main tourist areas of Pagan, Inle Lake and the Mandalay area. The military government restricts access to some areas of the country on an ad hoc basis. Those planning to travel in Myanmar should check with Burmese tourism authorities to see if travel is permitted. However, some tourists traveling to places where permission is not expressly required have reported delays due to questioning by local security personnel. Reportedly, 10 of the 14 Burmese states and divisions are polluted with anti-personnel land mines.

Customs officials may confiscate prohibited items such as firearms (including air-powered guns and toy guns), ammunition, and certain books, photographs and magazines that might be considered offensive.

On all outgoing shipments, the number of boxes/vans and weight is checked against the same information listed in the documents when a traveler entered the country. Discrepancies either up or down, which cannot be explained, may result in your outgoing shipment being delayed in customs.

Permits are required for export of teak/rattan furniture, antique lacquerware or wood carvings, and jewelry. Itemized lists and receipts for such purchases should be retained.

U.S. citizens living or in or visiting Myanmar are encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy and obtain updated information on travel and security within the country from the Embassy. The U.S. Embassy is located at 581 Merchant Street, Yangon, tel. (95-1) 282055 and (95-1) 282182; fax (95-1) 256018


Pets are not quarantined if accompanied by a health certificate and proof of rabies vaccination. Pet food and supplies are available most of the time in local supermarkets. Local veterinarians are sometimes competent but often lack medicines; when supplied, they are of unfamiliar brands. E-mail consultations with a stateside vet are invaluable. Clipping service is not available; dog owners should bring their own clippers.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures

There are two Burmese currencies, Kyat (pronounced "Chat" (rhymes with Shot)) and Foreign Exchange Certificates (FECs). Kyat are the most prevalent and widely accepted, with the value fluctuating on a daily basis. FECs are essentially "dollar equivalency" currency and are valued at a fixed rate of one FEC/$1.00.

There are no restrictions on the amount of dollars, traveler's checks or other foreign currency brought into Myanmar.

Local currency checking accounts cannot be opened by foreigners in Myanmar. Business transactions are generally on a cash basis. Not all major credit cards can be used in Myanmar, and generally only large international hotels in Yangon and Mandalay accept them. There are no automatic cash machines in the country to access currency from overseas, and it is not possible to cash a personal check drawn on a foreign bank.

Although money changers sometimes approach travelers to offer to change dollars into Burmese kyat at the market rate, it is illegal to exchange currency except at authorized locations such as the airport, banks and government stores.

Foreign Exchange Certificates (FEC) are required by foreigners for the payment of plane tickets, train tickets and most hotels. Burmese kyat are accepted for most other transactions. It is possible to purchase FEC with some credit cards at the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank in Yangon or any place that exchanges foreign currency.

In Myanmar, the weight utilized for gold is called tical. One tical equals 58 ounces, or 1 ounce equals 1.72 ticals. At the local market all foodstuffs are weighed in viss and ticals.

One viss equals 3.6 pounds, and there are 100 ticals to a viss. Liquid capacity for gasoline (Burmese call it petrol) is measured by the U.K. gallon. One gallon equals 4.5 liters

Special Information

Burmese authorities require that hotels and guesthouses furnish information about the identities and activities of their foreign guests. Burmese who interact with foreigners may be compelled to report on those interactions to the Burmese Government.

Taking photographs of people in uniform or any military installation is discouraged by Burmese authorities, and it could lead to arrest or the confiscation of cameras and film.


These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published in this country.

Area Handbook for Burma. 3d ed. Washington, 1983.

Aung Aung, Taik. Visions of Shwedagon. Bangkok, 1989.

Aung Sang, Suu Kyi. Freedom from Fear.

Aung Sang, Sun Kyi. Letters.

Aung-Thwin, Michael. Pagan, the Origins of Modern Burma. Hawaii, 1985.

Bixler, Norma. Burmese Journey. Antioch, 1967.

Burma. From Kingdom to Republic. New York, 1966.

Burma the Golden. APA Publications: Bangkok, 1982.

Burma. Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity. Zed Books Ltd., 1999.

Burma: Military Rule and the Politics of Stagnation. Ithaca, 1977.

Burmese Supernaturalism. Transaction Press, 1996.

Cady, John F. History of Modern Burma. Cambridge, MA, 1963.

Collis, Maurice. Trials in Burma. London.

Donnison, F. S. V. Burma. New York1970.

The Future of Burma. Maryland, 1990.

Harvey, Geoffrey E. History of Burma from the Earliest Times to 10 March 1824. London, 1925. (Reprinted London, 1967.)

Htin Aung. A History of Burma. New York, 1967.

Insight Guide Burma. New Jersey, 1984.

Jesse, J. Tennyson. The Lacquer Lady. London, 1929. (Reprinted New York, 1979.)

King, Winston L. A Thousand Years Away; Buddhism in Contemporary Burma. Oxford, 1964.

Lehman, F. K., ed. Military Rule in Burma Since 1962. Singapore, 1981.

Lester, Robert C. Theravada Buddhism In Southeast Asia. Ann Arbor, 1973.

Lewis, Norman. Golden Earth. London, 1952. (Reprinted New York, 1983.)

Lieberman, Victor. Burmese Administrative Cycles: Anarchy and Conquest, 1580-1760. Princeton, 1984.

Lintner, Bertil. Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency Since 1948. Silkworm Books, 1999.

Lintner, Bertil. Outrage: Burma's Struggle for Democracy. Hong Kong, 1989.

Maung Maung, Dr. Burma and General Ne Win. New York, 1969.

Mi Mi Khaing. Burmese Family. Calcutta, 1946. (Reprinted Indiana, 1962.)

Mya Than and Tan, Joseph L. H., ed. Myanmar Dilemmas and Options. Singapore Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1990.

Nash, Manning. The Golden Road to Modernity. Chicago, 1965. (Reprinted 1973.)

National Geographic Magazine. "Time and Again in Burma" (July 1984); "Pagan, on the Road to Mandalay" (March 1971.)

Nu, U. U. Nu. Saturday's Son. New Haven, 1975.

Orwell, George. Burmese Days. New York, 1934. (Many modern reprints.)

Pye, Lucian. Asian Power and Politics: The Cultural Dimensions of Authority. Harvard, 1985.

Pye, Lucian. Politics, Personality and Nation Building. New Haven, 1963. (Reprinted Westport, CT, 1976.)

Rotberg, Robert, ed. Burma: Prospects for a Democratic Future. Brookings Institution, 1998.

Shway Yoe (Sir George Scott). The Burman: His Life and Notions. London, 1882. (Reprinted New York, 1981).

Siamese White. London, 1951.

Silverstein, Josef. Burmese Politic: The Dilemma of National Unity. Brunswick, N. J., 1980.

Smith, Donald E. Religion and Politics in Burma. Princeton, 1965.

Spiro, Melford. Buddhism and Society. University of California Press, 1982.

Steinberg, David. Burma's Road Toward Development: Growth and Ideology Under Military Rule. Boulder, CO, 1981.

A Socialist Nation of Southeast Asia. Boulder, CO, 1982.

Taylor, Robert H. The State in Burma, Orient. Longman: London 1987.

Trager, Frank N. Burma: A Selected and Annotated Bibliography. New Haven, 1973.

Web Sites

The Burma fund:

Burma Net: Democratic Voice of Burma:

Burma Project:

Free Burma:

Free Burma Coalition:


State Peace and Development Council Website:

Internet News Groups





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Myanmar (myän´mär, mēän´mär´) or Burma (bûr´mə), officially Republic of the Union of Myanmar, republic (2005 est. pop. 42,909,000), 261,789 sq mi (678,033 sq km), SE Asia. It is bounded on the west by Bangladesh, India, and the Bay of Bengal; on the north and northeast by China; on the east by Laos and Thailand; and on the south by the Andaman Sea. The traditional capital and by far the largest city is Yangon (Rangoon), but in late 2005 the government began transferring many government ministries to the new capital, Naypyidaw, in central Myanmar.

Land and People

The most densely populated part of the country is the valley of the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River, which, with its vast delta, is one of the main rice-growing regions of the world. Mandalay, the country's second largest city, is on the Ayeyarwady in central Myanmar. The Ayeyarwady basin is inhabited by the Burmans proper, a Mongolic people who came down from Tibet by the 9th cent. and now represent nearly 70% of the mainly rural population. The valley is surrounded by a chain of mountains that stem from the E Himalayas and spread out roughly in the shape of a giant horseshoe; the ranges and river valleys of the Chindwinn (a tributary of the Ayeyarwady) and of the Sittaung and the Thanlwin, or Salween (both to the E of the Ayeyarwady), run from north to south.

In the mountains of N Myanmar (rising to more than 19,000 ft/5,790 m) and along the India-Myanmar frontier live various Mongolic peoples; the most important are the Kachins (in the Kachin State in the north) and the Chins (in the Chin State in the west). These peoples practice shifting cultivation (taungya) and cut teak in the forests.

Between the Bay of Bengal and the hills of the Arakan (or Rakhine) Mts. is Rakhine State, a narrow coastal plain with the port of Sittwe, which is home to the Arakanese (or Rakhine). Also in the state are the Muslim Rohingya, who are not recognized as a native minority by the government and are considered Bengali immigrants and noncitizens. In E Myanmar on the Shan Plateau is Shan State, home of the Shans, a Tai people closely related to the Thai who, at nearly 10% of the population, are Myanmar's largest minority. South of Shan State are the mountainous Kayah State and Kayin State; the Karens, who inhabit this region, are of Tai-Chinese origin, and many are Christians. South of Kayin State is the Tanintharyi region, a long, narrow strip of coast extending to the Isthmus of Kra. At its northern end is the port of Mawlamyine, Myanmar's third largest city.

Most of Myanmar has a tropical monsoon climate; however, N of the Bago Hills around Mandalay is the so-called Dry Zone with a rainfall of 20 to 40 in. (51–102 cm). On the Shan Plateau temperatures are moderate. Theravada Buddhism is the religion of about 90% of the population; there are Christian and Muslim minorities. Burmese (the tongue of the Burmans) is the official language, but each of Myanmar's ethnic minorities has its own language; in all, over 100 languages are spoken.


Myanmar suffered extensive damage in World War II, and some sectors of its economy have not yet fully recovered. About 70% of the population works in agriculture and forestry, and rice accounts for about half of the agricultural output. Other important crops are pulses, sesame, peanuts, and sugarcane. Myanmar also produces illegal opium in the northeast (bordering China, Laos, and Thailand), part of the "Golden Triangle" ; heroin produced in the country's laboratories contributes to the black-market trade. Myanmar's forests, which are government-owned, are the source of teak and other hardwoods. Fishing is also important.

The country is rich in minerals. Petroleum is found east of the Ayeyarwady in the Dry Zone. Tin and tungsten are mined in E Myanmar; the Mawchi mines in Kayah State are also rich in tungsten. In Shan State, northwest of Lashio, are the Bawdwin mines, the source of lead, silver, and zinc. Coal, copper, natural gas, and iron deposits have also been found in Myanmar. Gems (notably rubies and sapphires) are found near Mogok. Since the 13th cent., Myanmar has exported jade from the Hunkawng valley in the north to China.

Aside from food processing, other manufacturing industries include wood and wood products, construction materials, pharmaceuticals, fertilizer, natural gas, and textiles and clothing. Exports include gas, wood products, pulses, fish, rice, clothing, jade, and gemstones. The chief imports are fabric, petroleum products, fertilizer, plastics, machinery, transportation equipment, construction materials, crude oil, food products, and edible oil. The country's chief trade partners are Thailand, China, Singapore, and India. Myanmar's developing economy, depressed by political turmoil, began to recover in the 1980s with increased private activity and foreign investment, but efforts to liberalize the economy stalled in the late 1990s amid new political turmoil and did not resume until the 2010s.


The chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, the military junta that rules Myanmar, currently serves as head of state. The government is headed by the prime minister. Under the constitution adopted in 2008, the president, who is elected by the parliament, is head of state. The head of government is the prime minister. The bicameral parliament consists of the House of Nationalities with 224 members, 168 of which are popularly elected and 56 of which are appointed by the military, and the House of Representatives with 440 members, 330 of which are popularly elected and 110 of which are appointed by the military. Members of both houses serve five-year terms. In addition to the seats it controls in the parliament, the military retains control over its own affairs, and the commander in chief can remove the president. Administratively, the country is divided into seven regions, seven states, and a union territory (Naypyidaw).


Early History through World War II

Myanmar's early history is mainly the story of the struggle of the Burmans against the Mons, or Talaings (of Mon-Khmer origin). In 1044, King Anawratha established Burman supremacy over the Ayeyarwady delta and over Thaton, capital of the Mon kingdom. Anawratha adopted Theravada Buddhism from the Mons. His capital, Bagan, "the city of a thousand temples," was the seat of his dynasty until it was conquered by Kublai Khan in 1287. Then Shan princes predominated in upper Myanmar, and the Mons revived in the south.

In the 16th cent. the Burman Toungoo dynasty unified the country and initiated the permanent subjugation of the Shans to the Burmans. In the 18th cent. the Mons of the Ayeyarwady delta overran the Dry Zone. In 1758, Alaungapaya rallied the Burmans, crushed the Mons, and established his capital at Yangon. He extended Burman influence to areas in present-day India (Assam and Manipur) and Thailand. Myanmar was ruled by his successors (the Konbaung dynasty) when friction with the British over border areas in India led to war in 1824.

The Treaty of Yandabo (1826) forced Myanmar to cede to British India the Rakhine and Tanintharyi coasts. In a second war (1852) the British occupied the Ayeyarwady delta. Fear of growing French strength in the region, in addition to economic considerations, caused the British to instigate the third Anglo-Burman War (1885) to gain complete control of Myanmar. The Burman king was captured, and the remainder of the country was annexed to India. Under British rule rice cultivation in the delta was expanded, an extensive railroad network was built, and the natural resources of Myanmar were developed. Exploitation of the rich oil deposits of Yenangyaung in central Myanmar was begun in 1871; the export of metals also became important.

Until the 20th cent. Myanmar was allowed no self-government. In 1923 a system of "dyarchy," already in effect in the rest of British India, was introduced, whereby a partially elected legislature was established and some ministers were made responsible to it. In 1935 the British gave Myanmar a new constitution (effective 1937), which separated the country from British India and provided for a fully elected assembly and a responsible cabinet.

During World War II, Myanmar was invaded and quickly occupied by the Japanese, who set up a nominally independent Burman regime under Dr. Ba Maw. Disillusioned members of the Burmese Independent Army (which the Japanese had formed secretly before the war to assist in expelling the British) under Aung San formed an anti-Japanese resistance movement, the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL). Allied forces drove the Japanese out of Myanmar in Apr., 1945.

Independence and Civil Strife

In 1947 the British and Aung San reached agreement on full independence for Myanmar. Most of the non-Burman peoples supported the agreement, although the acquiescence of many proved short-lived. Despite the assassination of Aung San in July, 1947, the agreement went into effect on Jan. 4, 1948. Myanmar became an independent republic outside the Commonwealth of Nations. The new constitution provided for a bicameral legislature with a responsible prime minister and cabinet. Non-Burman areas were organized as the Shan, Kachin, Kayin, Kayah, and Chin states; each possessed a degree of autonomy.

The government, controlled by the socialist AFPFL, was soon faced with armed risings of Communist rebels and of Karen tribespeople, who wanted a separate Karen nation. International tension grew over the presence in Myanmar of Chinese Nationalist troops who had been forced across the border by the Chinese Communists in 1950 and who were making forays into China. Myanmar took the matter to the United Nations, which in 1953 ordered the Nationalists to leave Myanmar. In foreign affairs Myanmar followed a generally neutralist course. It refused to join the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization and was one of the first countries to recognize the Communist government in China.

In the elections of 1951–52 the AFPFL triumphed. In 1958 the AFPFL split into two factions; with a breakdown of order threatening, Premier U Nu invited General Ne Win, head of the army, to take over the government (Oct., 1958). After the 1960 elections, which were won by U Nu's faction, civilian government was restored. However, as rebellions among the minorities flared and opposition to U Nu's plan to make Buddhism the state religion mounted, conditions deteriorated rapidly.

In Mar., 1962, Ne Win staged a military coup, discarded the constitution, and established a Revolutionary Council, made up of military leaders who ruled by decree. While the federal structure was retained, a hierarchy of workers' and peasants' councils was created. A new party, the Myanmar Socialist Program party, was made the only legal political organization. The Revolutionary Council fully nationalized the industrial and commercial sectors of the economy and imposed a policy of international isolation.

Insurgency became a major problem of the Ne Win regime. Pro-Chinese Communist rebels—the "White Flag" Communists—were active in the northern part of the country, where, from 1967 on, they received aid from Communist China; the Chinese established links with the Shan and Kachin insurgents as well. The deposed U Nu, who managed to leave Myanmar in 1969, also used minority rebels to organize an anti–Ne Win movement among the Shans, Karens, and others in the east. However, in 1972, U Nu split with minority leaders over their assertion of the right to secede from Myanmar.

By the early 1970s the various insurgent groups controlled about one third of Myanmar. Ne Win and other top leaders resigned from the military in 1972 but continued to retain power. A new constitution, providing for a unicameral legislature and one legal political party, took effect in Mar., 1974. At that time the Revolutionary Council was disbanded and Ne Win was installed as president. Economic strife and ethnic tensions throughout the 1970s and 80s led to antigovernment riots in 1988, which caused Ne Win to resign from office. The series of governments that followed failed to restore order, and the military seized control under the name of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC); some 3,000 were killed when the demonstrations were suppressed. In June, 1989, the military government officially changed the name of the country from Burma to Myanmar.

In elections held in May, 1990, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a large majority of assembly seats. However, the SLORC declared the election results invalid and arrested many leaders and members of the NLD. Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the NLD, had been placed under house arrest in 1989; she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. In 1992, General Than Shwe became head of the junta and assumed the position of prime minister; many political prisoners were released, most martial law decrees were lifted, and plans to draft a new constitution were announced. However, there was little evidence that the army was prepared to return the government to civilian control. A UN General Assembly committee unanimously condemned the military regime for its refusal to surrender power to a democratically elected parliament.

During the mid-1990s the military government signed cease-fires with the insurgent ethnic minorities except the Karens; the government launched a major offensive against their stronghold in E Myanmar along the Thai border in 1997. Aung San Suu Kyi was released in 1995 and became active as an opposition leader; the military government denounced her and harassed her followers. In Jan., 1996, Khun Sa, a major opium lord and leader of a private army, surrendered and allowed government troops to enter his jungle headquarters; it was speculated that he might have been granted amnesty and allowed to continue drug activities in return for ending his insurgency.

In 1997 the SLORC changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Myanmar moved toward closer political and economic relations with neighboring India and Thailand in the 1990s, and in 1999 it was accepted as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Human-rights groups continued to report numerous abuses, including the jailing of trade unionists and the increased use of members of ethnic minority groups as forced laborers, and harassment of and crackdowns on the opposition were regular occurrences. In Nov., 2000, the International Labor Organization called for sanctions against Myanmar because of the country's use of forced labor, but significant economic measures were not imposed because they would be barred by the World Trade Organization, to which Myanmar belongs.

Aung San Suu Kyi was again placed under house arrest from Sept., 2000, to May, 2002. Although many of her supporters had hoped that her 2002 release signaled a new attitude on the part of the SPDC, talks between Aung San Suu Kyi and the government, which had begun during her confinement, did not resume as expected. As she increased her criticism of the SPDC in 2003, her motorcade was attacked in May, her supporters were blamed for the violence, and she and other NLD leaders again placed in detention or under house arrest. The renewed repression led to new international sanctions and criticism of the government; like the earlier sanctions, these did not have a significant effect, in large part because of significant trade with and investments from China, Thailand, India, and Singapore. A number of NLD leaders were freed beginning in November. Meanwhile, in Aug., 2003, Gen. Khin Nyunt, who headed military intelligence, succeeded Than Shwe as prime minister; the latter remained head of the junta.

In May, 2004, the government convened a constitutional convention, but the NLD boycotted the convention because of Aung San Suu Kyi's continuing detention. The convention adjourned in July. Khin Nyunt, who was regarded as one of the more moderate SPDC members, was forced from office in Oct., 2004. Lt. Gen. Soe Win replaced him. Khin Nyunt was subsequently (2005) secretly tried on corruption and bribery charges and given a suspended sentence.

The country did not suffer significant damage as a result of the Dec., 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami. The government reconvened the constitutional convention in Feb., 2005, but adjourned it again at the end of March. The government arrest of Shan leaders on treason charges in Feb., 2005, following a government call for Shan forces to disarm, led the Shan that had signed a 1995 cease-fire with the government to resume their struggle and declare (May, 2005) Shan State independent. In Nov., 2005, the government announced that the capital would be moved to near Pyinmana from Yangon and that it had begun relocating ministries there. The move was presented as a transfer of the government to a more central location, but outside observers regarded it as an attempt to relocate to a more isolated and secure site.

The constitutional convention was again reconvened from Dec., 2005, to Jan., 2006, from Oct., 2006, to Dec., 2006, and from July to Sept., 2007, which the government announced that it had completed its work of writing the detailed guidelines for a new constitution. Under the guidelines the military would control important government ministries and sizable blocks of legislative seats. Meanwhile, in Apr., 2006, the government accused the NLD of having ties to terrorist groups, a charge the NLD denied. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which usually raises issues of concern confidentially with national governments, publicly criticized Myanmar's military regime of major human rights abuses in June, 2007.

In May, Lt. Gen. Thein Sein became acting prime minister; Soe Win, the prime minister, was seriously ill, and died in October. Fuel price rises in Aug., 2007, led to antigovernment demonstrations that came to involve large numbers of Buddhist monks. The protests continued into September, when the government brutally suppressed them and arrested some 3,000 people (the official figure). In Feb., 2008, the government announced that the new constitution was completed and that a national referendum on it would be held in May. The proposed constitution was not published, however, until April.

In May, 2008, Cyclone Nargis devastated areas of Myanmar bordering the Andaman Sea, especially in the Ayeyarwady delta and greater Yangon regions. An estimated 138,000 persons were killed, and rebuilding costs were estimated at $1 billion. The junta initially appeared reluctant to accept international aid and for a time refused international help in distributing the aid. Despite the cyclone, the constitutional referendum went ahead as scheduled (with a two-week delay in devastated areas); the vote, criticized internationally as a sham, overwhelming approved the charter, which entered into force later in the month. In Nov., 2008, Myanmarese oil-and-gas exploration ships in disputed waters in the Bay of Bengal were confronted by the Bangladeshi navy; both nations subsequently withdrew their vessels.

The government broke a 20-year cease-fire with the rebels in Kokang, in NE Shan State, in Aug., 2009; the small rebel force was soon defeated, but some 37,000 refugees fled across the Chinese border. (Fighting continued with Wa rebels, who had joined the conflict; a peace accord was signed with the Wa in 2013.) China called on Myanmar to maintain stability in the border region, and most refugees soon returned. The government's move was part of its campaign to force the members of the various ethnic rebel armies to join the border guards and to have members of the ethnic groups participate in the elections under the new constitution.

In Mar., 2010, in advance of expected elections under the constitution adopted in 2008, the government announced election laws forbidding civil servants, members of religious orders, and persons imprisoned for crimes from being members of political parties. These and other restrictions appeared intended to abolish the NLD or force it to oust Aung San Suu Kyi and other prominent jailed members. At the same time, the government also officially annulled the 1990 election that the NLD won. In April, Thein Sein and other government leaders resigned from the army prior to run as civilians in upcoming elections; additional senior officers resigned in August.

The NLD refused to reregister under the new election laws, and it and several other parties were dissolved by the government later in 2010. An NLD faction that objected to the election boycott formed the National Democratic Force to run in the November elections. The Union Solidarity and Development party (USDP), the main party aligned with the military, won more than three quarters of the nonappointed seats in parliament in November; opposition parties, including a second party aligned with the military, accused the USDP of fraud, and the elections were widely condemned internationally. Following the election, Aung San Suu Kyi was released.

In Feb., 2011, the new parliament elected Thein Sein president. The military junta was officially dissolved the following month when the new government took office, but it was unclear if Than Shwe remained the country's real leader as head of the State Supreme Council, a shadowy extraconstitutional body. In June, significant fighting erupted in Kachin and Shan states with Kachin rebels (who had maintained a cease-fire since the 1990s); the conflict was centered on the Momauk area in S Kachin State, where China was building a hydroelectric project. In September the government halted work on another Chinese-funded hydroelectric project that had aroused much opposition, Myitsone, in central Kachin. In addition to these and other projects on the tributaries of the Ayeyarwady, proposed dams on the Thanlwin also became a sources of tension with ethnic groups, and the army was used to forcibly residents from construction areas.

The second half of 2011 saw a number of improvements in relations between the government and the opposition, including a meeting between the president and Aung San Suu Kyi and the release of some political prisoners (nearly all political prisoners were released by the end of 2013), and in Jan., 2012, the NLD received approval to run candidates in the upcoming April elections. A cease-fire was signed in early 2012 with Karen rebels, who had been fighting government forces since the country's indepedence in 1948. The agreement was perhaps the most significant of the several cease-fires reached between the government and ethnic rebel groups in 2011–12, but many groups remain at war with the government. Aung San Suu Kyi and more than 40 NLD candidates won seats in parliament in the April voting; the NLD captured nearly all the seats that were up for election. The changes in the political situation in Myanmar led to the easing or removal of sanctions that had been imposed on the country, and revived contacts with Western nations.

In June, 2012, ethnic violence between Buddhist Arakanese and Muslim Rohingyas in Rakhine State in W Myanmar displaced tens of thousands and led the government to declare a state of emergency there. Tensions between the groups continued, however, and in October significant violence again erupted. Many Rohingyas ended up displaced, living in squalid camps. Beginning in Mar., 2013, recurring violence erupted between Buddhists and Muslims, first in Meikhtila, central Myanmar; mainly involving attacks against Muslims, the violence spread to a number of towns and villages elsewhere in the country. In early 2015, fighting erupted with the Kokang rebels in Shan State, leading to a new surge of refugees across the Chinese border.


See F. N. Trager, Burma: From Kingdom to Republic (1966); M. Htin Aung, A History of Burma (1967); H. Tinker, The Union of Burma (4th ed. 1967); N. Bixler, Burma: A Profile (1971); E. D. Smith, Battle for Burma (1979); D. Steinberg, Burma's Road to Development (1981); M. Smith, Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Insurgency (1991); T. Myint-U, The Making of Modern Burma (2001), The River of Lost Footsteps (2006), and Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia (2011); M. W. Charney, A History of Modern Burma (2009).

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Union of Myanmar
Region: Southeast Asia
Population: 41,734,853
Language(s): Burmese
Literacy Rate: 83.1%
Number of Primary Schools: 35,752
Compulsory Schooling: 5 years
Public Expenditure on Education: 1.2%
Educational Enrollment: Primary: 5,413,752
  Secondary: 1,752,510
  Higher: 245,317
Educational Enrollment Rate: Primary: 121%
  Secondary: 30%
  Higher: 5%
Teachers: Secondary: 106,515
  Higher: 5,730
Student-Teacher Ratio: Primary: 46:1
  Secondary: 16:1
Female Enrollment Rate: Secondary: 30%
  Higher: 7%

History & Background

The Union of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is the largest nation in mainland Southeast Asia. With a territory of 262,000 square miles and a population of approximately 50 million people, it is located between the two most populous nations in the worldChina and India.

Myanmar's society and culture have been greatly influenced by China and India. As an independent nation since January 1948, Myanmar has been passing through various military rules and a series of democratization movements. Its education system, as is the case in other Buddhist countries in Southeast Asia, is based on the model of rural monasteries where the Sayadaws (abbots) teach the basic three Rs, as well as handicrafts, to people of all ages.

A fascinating, longtime continuity of monastic learning and modern education makes Myanmar one of the most literate countries in the region. With an approximately 80 percent literacy rate, Myanmar, despite many militaristically created setbacks, rightfully claims to be an educational leader among many economically disadvantaged Third World countries.

Myanmar has been an active partner in the UNESCO-led movement of "Education for All," known as EFA2000. Education in Myanmar (then Burma) until 1948 was colonial, widely criticized by the leaders of independence movement. The Education Reconstruction Committee Report of 1947 included a wide array of school reforms such as bilingual curricula, vocational training, and health education. During the 1948-1962 post-independence period, the government of Burma announced a statement of educational policy that included free education in state schools; the use of Burmese as a medium of instruction while allowing English at the college level; and the creation of new textbooks that highlighted the spirit of nationalism.

Under military rule (1962-1988) the Burmese educational system became highly centralized. General Ne Win's Government used the schools as a tool of political indoctrination. While the military rulers emphasized science and technology, school and college curricula were controlled and teachers were not able to teach in a free atmosphere. Once an economically as well as educationally leading country in South East Asia, Burma was granted a status of "Least Developed Country" by the United Nations in 1987. In 1989 Burma adopted a nationalistic new name, Myanmar.

Finally, during 1988-2000, known as a period of "democratization under the military control," the educational system in Myanmar has remained chaotic. In the first free, multiparty elections, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi's party won a decisive victory, but the Military refused to give up its authority. Ms. Kyi, a highly popular, democratic leader was held under house arrest. Numerous students and teachers who led the democratization movement were silenced or jailed, and many colleges and universities were periodically shut down.

Educational SystemOverview

Despite a traditionally high rate of literacy and importance of learning in Myanmar, its educational system is in a state of underdevelopment and uncertainty. Although enrollment in primary schools is very high, the completion rate lags behind. Reports indicate that only one third of all primary school children finish the first five years. Many students drop out due to poverty, lack of support, and poor health. While school attendance is high in urban areas and among male students, village schools in a vastly rural-agrarian country are handicapped by poor attendance, especially among the female students.

Myanmar's educational system has been suffering from a proportionately declining budget. While there has been a sizable increase in the number of schools, colleges, universities, and teachers during the last five years, the percentage of total education expenditure declined from 4.65 percent in 1995 to 2.52 percent in 1999. While the total budget rose from approximately 7,000 to l,000 million kyats (approximately 6.5 kyats equal US$1.00), the proportionate decline implies that the present military rule does not give high priority to education, even though it does declare its commitment to EF2000 Education For All by Year 2000.

For several years Myanmar has also been actively participating in many world agencies such as UNDP (United Nations Development Project), UNESCO (United Nations Economic, Social, and Cultural Organization), and UNICEF (United Nations Children's Emergency Fund). Even in this area of support by NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), as in the above allocation by the Government' Ministry of Education budget, there is a slight proportionate decline. While the UNDP allocation of $3.9 million for primary education in Myanmar rose to $5.9 million in four years (1994-1998), it fell from 14 percent to 12 percent, proportionately.

Administration, Finance, & Educational Research

Recent changes and developments in the educational system in Myanmar, as in the case of other less developed countries, are described, explained, and projected in many divergent ways. Depending on the source of the description and assessment of changes in Myanmar's schools and colleges, there are widely varying pictures. The government-generated reports declare steady progress and lofty goals at all levels of education.

There are seven departments and many specially formed committees in charge of setting goals and employing appropriate strategies to achieve EFA (Education for All) and specific numerical targets. For instance, the Department of Basic Education is in charge of the primary, middle, and high school levels. The Department of Higher Education is responsible for colleges and universities. There are separate departments for technical, agricultural, and vocational education and official bodies for administering examinations, training teachers, and conducting educational research. There are various committees for formal and nonformal education at national and regional levels; these bodies have reported that more and more children have been completing primary and secondary education and that the degree programs have shortened their masters degree program from three to two years. It is also proposed that undergraduate programs be reduced from four to three years and that a semester system that continuously monitors the student's progress be introduced in place of the present system, which heavily relies on rote leaning and extremely competitive end-of-year final examinations.

The Medium of Instruction: Before 1991 all textbooks for basic education were in Burmese. Even in higher education, English was de-emphasized as a language of the Colonizers. Such nationalistic sentiments seemed to be replaced by more realistic objectives of mastering English as a universal language and being more compatible with scientific and technical education.

It is reported that all subjects except the Myanmar language and literature are taught in English at the high school and college levels. The texts and examinations, too, are written in English. There is some concern though, among Myanmar's leaders, that the English language may generate more liberal ways of thinking, as in the United States and Great Britain, and may create an atmosphere of democratic and egalitarian ways of thinking and acting.

Teaching Profession

The critics of Myanmar's militarism point to the severe shortage of adequately trained teachers, especially to teach English and sciences, as many seek overseas careers because of relatively low salaries and lack of freedom. Myanmar's leaders seem to favor the Japanese system of education, which places heavy stress on discipline, more so than the Western European and American systems. Many university students have been leaving Myanmar to seek admission to other universities in the region or to Europe and the United States, as numerous campuses have been closed or affected by student demonstrations and government repression.

Two developments in recent years include an increase in the enrollment of computer literacy and an increase in the enrollment in the government-sponsored University of Distance Education. Several hundred schools and colleges have been teaching computer education, especially during evenings and through short programs. Almost 50 percent of all university students were affiliated with the University of Distance Education, which attracts elderly students and would-be teachers.

Tuition Classes: In Myanmar and in many developing countries that call themselves "Socialistic," the government heavily favors the rich through a parallel system of private tutoring called kyu-shin. Many students call in teachers to coach them at their homes in the format of small groups of friends and relatives. These private classes are costly and have been contributing to the general deterioration of government schools. Such a system also creates inequality of opportunity for students who need private classes but cannot afford them.

The most popular tuition classes cater to the needs of students in the final year of high school as a "guarantee" for college entrance after the stiff and highly competitive tests. The tutors often guide their students through specially prepared expensive guidebooks and more or less personalized guidance. English and science are among the most sought-out subjects in order to get better jobs or entry to overseas universities.

Ethnic Diversity: Myanmar's population includes many ethnic minorities, some of which (such as Mon) have been deprived of equality in the use of their own language. For example, at one point, the shutting down of 120 Mon schools attended by 6,000 students was discussed. Another discriminatory practice involves the Citizenship Law of 1982. Thousands of Chinese and Indian students face the problem of college admission in general and entrance to the programs of technology and medicine in particular.


In spite of its pro-educational cultural tradition and several recent success stories, Myanmar still faces many unresolved issues. While the international agencies, as well as local volunteers, have been trying to improve the quality and expand the scope of education at various levels, Myanmar's repressive military leadership offsets these efforts.

The democratically inclined leader, Ms. Kyi, is still not allowed to lead, despite her winning a Nobel Peace Prize 10 years ago. Myanmar's schools and colleges need to get closer to their long overdue prospects of democratization, openness, and equality among students and teachers.


Asia 2000 Yearbook. "Far Eastern Economic Review," 2000.

Myo Nyunt, U. Human Resource Development and Nation Building in Myanmar's Educational Development. Yungoon: Office of Strategic Studies, 1996.

Thein, Myat, and Khin Maung NYO. Social Sector Development in Myanmar: The Rate of the State. ASEAN Economic Development, December 1999.

Union of Myamar. Review of the Financial, Economic, and Social Conditions for 1997/98. Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, 1998.

Ashakant Nimbark

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Union of Myanmar
Region (Map name): Southeast Asia
Population: 41,994,678
Language(s): Burmese, minority ethnic groups have their own languages
Literacy rate: 83.0%
Area: 678,500 sq km
Number of Television Stations: 2
Number of Television Sets: 320,000
Television Sets per 1,000: 7.6
Number of Satellite Subscribers: 1,758
Number of Radio Stations: 8
Number of Radio Receivers: 4,200,000
Radio Receivers per 1,000: 100.0
Number of Individuals with Computers: 52,000
Computers per 1,000: 1.2
Number of Individuals with Internet Access: 7,000
Internet Access per 1,000: 0.2

Background & General Characteristics

Censorship characterizes Myanmar media. The Union of Myanmar, as Burma was renamed in 1989 after a military junta established the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), is controlled by a rigid socialist government directed by the armed forces. Media can only report news sanctioned by the government. Minimal international news is reported. Aung Zaw, editor of Irrawaddy magazine, described journalism in Myanmar as "comatose."

At least four Burmese-language and two English daily newspapers circulate. Myanmar newspapers print official decrees such as the 1982 citizenship law. Myanma Alin (New Light of Myanmar), published since 1914, is distributed in four languages and contains daily government press releases and negative international wire articles about countries critical of Myanmar. Editorial cartoons denounce the opposition's National League for Democracy. In summer 1988, Burmese media briefly experienced relaxation of rigid rules. Millions of democratic protestors peacefully demonstrated. Government newspapers reported factually about this democratic movement, and newspapers and periodicals were created to chronicle events. On September 18, the military led by Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt violently subdued the protestors. The junta stopped all but two newspapers, and they reverted to printing warnings, military slogans, and martial laws for Burmese citizens. Khin Nyunt blamed the media for provoking the demonstrations and accused reporters of falsifying stories.

Conditions for Burmese journalists have worsened. Monitored by the Military Intelligence Service, imprisonment, or hard labor sentences, reporters cautiously prepare media that the government cannot interpret as offensive. Myanmar officials are especially angered by media they think might cause people to regard the government disrespectfully. Most Burmese realize that news is for the most part manufactured to portray the junta as Myanmar's best rulers.

Imprisoned Burmese editors San San Nweh and U Win Tin received the 2001 Golden Pen of Freedom from the World Association of Newspapers. Charged with supporting freedom of expression and democracy, the editors refused to denounce those beliefs in order to be released. Like many jailed Burmese journalists, they suffered poor health due to their captivity and beatings by prison guards. San San Nweh was specifically arrested for giving human rights reports to European journalists. Editor of the daily Hanthawati newspaper, U Win Tin was tried and convicted by a military court for allegations of belonging to the Communist Party of Burma. His incarceration was lengthened because writing materials were found in his cell.

Burmese media professionals have persevered. Exiled Burmese journalists can write factually about their homeland for international media use. Many Burmese journalists live in Thailand so they can clandestinely distribute publications into neighboring Myanmar. In Norway, the Democratic Voice of Burma is a dissident news service.

State-Press Relations

Prior to military rule in the late twentieth century, Burma had an active media. Burma's first newspaper, The Maulmain Chronicle, was published in 1836 as an English weekly while Burma was a British colony. The Burmese monarch, King Mindon, encouraged newspaper publication and entertained editors at his palace. He supported the creation of Yadanaopon, the first newspaper printed entirely in Burmese. The media was essential in resisting colonial rulers. Burma gained independence from Great Britain in 1948. At least thirty Burmese, English, and Chinese language newspapers were permitted to report domestic and international news, interview prime ministers, and interact with journalists worldwide. U Thaung founded Kyemon (The Mirror Daily) in 1957, and its 90,000 circulation was Burma's largest. Although most southeastern Asian governments promoted state-regulated censorship, Burma supported freedom of the press.

A 1962 military coup which resulted in General Ne Win declaring himself dictator of Burma altered the country's media. Wanting to isolate Burma to achieve his socialist agenda, the general decided which newspapers could be nationalized and remain in circulation and which publications would be halted. He formed the Press Scrutiny Board, which still existed in the early twenty-first century, to regulate censorship. All journalism organizations were disbanded. Ne Win demanded the arrest of media professionals he considered hostile to his policies. Foreign journalists were ordered to depart Burma, and many Burmese reporters either quit their jobs or went into exile.

Political parties were united into the Burma Socialist Program Party, which further tightened control of the press. The 1962 Printers' and Publishers' Registration Act stated that only government-approved media could apply for the annual licenses that were mandatory for operation. Media was ordered to focus on topics supportive of Burma's socialist revolution. By December 1965, private newspapers were forbidden. Military leaders established The Working People's Daily as the official distributor of government news. The bureaucracy controlled access to limited supplies of newsprint and paper. The traditional Burmese media was effectively paralyzed.


Censorship involves inking over passages, tearing out pages, and preventing material from being printed by reviewing material before approving it for publication. Many magazines and books in Myanmar are missing thick sections and covered with black ink. Some censors can be bribed to assure publication.

The government tries to block news regarding any negative events in Burma, with the end of keeping the current government in power. Because reporters cannot prepare factual accounts about topics that the government considers taboo, news is unreliable. Political enemies such as opposition leaders are described unfavorably, and all state-owned media is required to present these opinions. Events that are covered internationally, such as opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's release in 1995, are restricted from Myanmar media. The Ministry of Information indoctrinates government journalists at journalism courses. Reporters are expected to write pro-government propaganda and never criticize leaders or their political actions. Articles are not to mention political corruption, reform, education, and HIV/AIDS. Even stories telling about losing Myanmar sports teams and torrential rainstorms are forbidden. The press is not welcome at government meetings.

In 1998, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) identified Myanmar and Indonesia as the most hostile Asian environments for media. Rumors circulated that Myanmar military police had tortured and killed two journalists because their newspaper, The Mirror, had accidentally published a photograph of Khin Nyunt next to a headline describing criminals. Such placement of photographs and headlines has occasionally occurred, and readers realize it might be a subversive reaction to enduring censorship laws and political conditions. Journalists often try to hide information and criticisms in media through careful wording or images.

Unlike other newspapers in Myanmar, The Myanmar Times is not forced to comply with junta press regulations. Published weekly in Burmese and English at Rangoon since 2000, The Myanmar Times, with a total circulation of 30,000, is edited by an Australian journalist, Ross Dunkley. He has been permitted to print exclusive articles about discussions between the Myanmar junta and Suu Kyi. Media professionals speculate that Dunkley is allowed more press freedom because Khin Nyunt and Office of Strategic Studies (OSS) representatives are using The Myanmar Times to convince international readers to accept the junta. Other publications are also designed to attract foreign approval, especially in the form of investments. For example, in the 1990s, the monthly business magazines Dana (Prosperity) andMyanmar Dana were issued in a superior quality compared to other Burmese media in order to impress readers.

Attitude Toward Foreign Media

Any international news included in Myanmar media is censored. Events such as political strife, deposed leaders, human rights trials, and student protests in other countries, especially in Asia, are either omitted or described briefly with no details. Foreign reporters are discouraged from visiting Myanmar and sometimes can only enter the country by concealing their profession and securing a tourist visa. The junta deports and blacklists foreign correspondents who attempt to report on the opposition movement. Any reporters that the Myanmar authorities allow in the country are closely monitored.

Broadcast Media

Because Myanmar is impoverished, isolated, and only has electrical services in approximately 10 percent of its territory, people have limited use of radios and televisions. Sources estimated that there were 3.3 million radios and 80,000 televisions in Myanmar in 2001. The Myanmar government radio station, Burma Broadcasting Service, airs broadcasts that primarily reach urban populations. The government-monitored transmissions play only approved programs, which do not include Western songs or other broadcasts considered contrary to government policies. Shortwave radios are the only means for Burmese residents to gain access to foreign news reports. Some Burmese can receive Voice of America and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) programming. They can also secretly broadcast reports to listeners who can pick up their signal.

Initiated in 1980, the government-owned television station has color transmission capabilities but only broadcasts a few shows on evenings and weekends. The Video Act of 1985 outlined what media could tape. Internet access in Burma is rare, and computer laws require government approval for use or ownership of computers, modems, and fax machines which can connect Myanmar with international resources and influences.


Bunge, Frederica M., ed. Burma: A Country Study. 3rd ed. Washington, DC: Federal Research Division Library of Congress, 1983.

Luzoe. Myanmar Newspaper Reader. Kensington, MD: Dunwoody Press, 1996.

Neumann, A. Lin. "The Survival of Burmese Journalism." Harvard Asia Quarterly 6 (Winter 2002). Available from

Nunn, Godfrey R., compiler. Burmese and Thai Newspapers: An International Union List. Taipei: Ch'eng-wen Pub. Co., 1972.

Thaung, U. A Journalist, a General, and an Army in Burma. Bangkok: White Lotus, 1995.

Elizabeth D. Schafer

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An independent republic of Southeast Asia, known until 1989 as Burma, located east of India and south of China, and formerly a province of British India, inhabited by an indigenous stock of Indo-Chinese people who originally migrated from Western China at different periods, represented by three principal groups, the Talaings, the Shans, and the Bama, although groups of several other allied races are also found.

The largest religious community is the Theravada Buddhist, though there are significant minority communities of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and those who follow forms of indigenous tribal religions. Many beliefs were affected by the Japanese occupation during World War II and by the internal power struggles following independence in 1948, culminating in the creation of the present socialist republic in 1974.

Some traditional beliefs still linger on. In general, the Burmese believed the soul is immaterial and independent of the body, to which it is only bound by a special attraction. It can quit and return to the body at will, but can also be captured and kept from returning to it. After death the soul hovers near the corpse as an invisible butterfly, known as leippya. A witch or demon may capture the leippya while it wanders during the hours of sleep, and sickness is sure to result. Offerings are made to the magician or devil to induce him to release the soul. The Kachins of the northern hills of Burma believed that persons having the evil eye possessed two souls, the secondary soul being the cause of the malign influence.

Belief in Spirits

Beliefs in spirits, mostly malign, took a prominent place in the religious beliefs of the people of Myanmar. The spirits of rain, wind, and the heavenly bodies were in that condition of evolution that usually results in their becoming full-fledged deities, with whom placation gives way to worship. But the spirits of the forest are true demons with well-marked animistic characteristics. Thus the nat or seiktha dwells in trees or groves. His nature is usually malign, but occasionally we find him as the guardian of a village. In any case, he possesses a shrine where he may be propitiated by gifts of food and drink. Several of these demonic figures have almost achieved godhead, so widespread did their particular veneration become, and Hmin Nat, Chiton, and Wannein Nat may be named as fiends of power, the dread of which spread across extensive districts.

The nats were probably of Indian origin, and the now thoroughly indigenous creatures may at one time have been members of the Hindu pantheon. Many spirit families such as the Seikkaso, Akathaso, and Bommaso, who inhabit various parts of the jungle trees, are of Indian origin. The fulfillment of every wish depends upon the nats or spirits, who are all-powerful as far as humans are concerned. They are innumerable. Any house might have its complement, who swarmed in its several rooms and took up their abode in its hearth, doorposts, verandas, and corners. The nats also inhabited or inspired wild beasts, and all misfortune was supposed to emanate from them.

The Burmese used to believe that the more materialistic dead haunted the living with a malign purpose. The people had a great dread of their newly-deceased relatives, whom they imagined to haunt the vicinity of their dwellings for the purpose of ambushing them.

No dead body would be carried to a cemetery except by the shortest route, even should this necessitate cutting a hole in the wall of a house. The spirits of those who died a violent death haunted the scene of their fatality. Like the ancient Mexicans (see Ciupipiltin ), the Burmese had a great dread of the ghosts of women who died in childbirth. The Kachins believed such women to turn into vampires (swawmx ) who were accompanied by their children when these died with them. The spirits of children were often supposed to inhabit the bodies of cats and dogs.

The Burmans were extremely circumspect as to how they spoke and acted towards the inhabitants of the spirit world, as they believed that disrespect or mockery would at once bring down upon them misfortune or disease. An infinite number of guardian spirits were included in the Burmese demonological system, and these were chiefly supposed to be Brahmanic importations. These dwelt in the houses like the evil nats and were the tutelars of village communities, and even of clans. They were duly propitiated, at which ceremonies rice, beer, and teasalad were offered to them. Women were employed as exorcists to drive out the evil nats, but at the festivals connected with the guardian nats, women were not permitted to officiate.

Necromancy and Occult Medicine

Necromancy used to be common among the Burmese. The weza or wizards were of two kinds, good and evil, and these were each subdivided into four classes, according to the materials they employed, such as, for example, magic squares, mercury, or iron. The native doctors professed to cure the diseases caused by witchcraft, and often specialized in various ailments. Besides being necromantic, medicine was largely astrological. There was said to be in Lower Burma a town of wizards at Kale Thaungtot on the Chindwin River, and many journeyed there to have the effects of bewitchment neutralized by its chief. Sympathetic magic was employed to render an enemy sick. Indian and native alchemy and cheiromancy were widespread. Noise is the universal method of exorcism, and in cases of illness the patient was often severely beaten, the idea being that the fiend that possessed him was the sufferer.

Mediums and Exorcists

The tumsa or natsaw were magicians, diviners, or wise men and women who practiced their arts in a private and in a nonhierophantic capacity among the rural Burmese. The wise man physician who worked in iron (than weza ) was at the head of his profession, and sold amulets that guarded their purchasers from injury. Female mediums professed to be the spouses of certain nats, and could only retain their supernatural connection with a certain spirit so long as they were wedded to him.

With the exorcists, training was voluntary and even perfunctory. But with the mediums it was severe and prolonged. Among the civilized Burmanese a much more exhaustive apprenticeship was demanded. Indeed a thorough and intricate knowledge of some departments of magical and astrological practice was necessary for recognition by the brotherhood, the entire art of which was medico-magical, consisting of the exorcism of evil spirits from human beings and animals.

The methods employed were such as usually accompanied exorcism among tribal cultures, that is, dancing, flagellation of the afflicted person, induction of ecstasy, oblation to the fiend in possession, and noise.

Prophecy and Divination

Prophecy and divination have been quite popular in Myanmar, and were in some measure controlled by the use of the Deitton, an astrological book of Indian origin. Observation of the direction in which the blood of a sacrificed animal flowed, the knots in torn leaves, the length of a split bamboo pole, and the whiteness or otherwise of a hardboiled egg were utilized as methods of augury. But by far the most important mode of divination in use in the country was the bones of fowls. It was indeed an almost universal way of deciding all the difficulties of Burmese existence. Those wing or thigh bones in which the holes exhibit regularity were chosen. Pieces of bamboo were inserted into these holes, and the resulting slant of the stick defined the augury. If the stick slanted outwards it decided in favor of the measure under test. If it slanted inwards, the omen was unfavorable. Other materials of divination were the entrails of animals and the contents of blown eggs.


Burmese astrology derived both from Indian and Chinese sources, and powerfully affected the entire people, most of whom had a private astrologer who would be consulted for knowledge of the trend of the horoscope regarding the near future. Burmese would be active and enterprising on lucky days, but nothing would induce them to undertake any form of work should the day be pyatthadane or ominous.

The bedinsaya, or astrologers proper, practiced a fully developed Hindu astrology, but being few in number, they were not as influential as the rural soothsayers, who followed the Chinese system known as Hpewan, almost identical to the Taoist astrological tables of Chinese diviners. From this system were derived horoscopes, fortunes, happy marriages, and prognostications regarding business affairs. But in practice the system was often confounded with the Buddhist calendar and much confusion resulted. The Buddhist calendar was in popular use, while the Hpewan was purely astrological. Therefore the Burmese ignorant of the latter was obliged to consult an astrologer who was able to collate the two regarding his lucky and unlucky days. The chief horoscopic influences were day of birth, day of the week, represented by the symbol of a certain animal, and the position of the dragon's mouth to the terminal syllables of the day-names.


Burmese magic consisted in the making of charms and the manufacture of occult medicine to cause hallucination, second sight, the prophetic state, invisibility, or invulnerability. It was frequently sympathetic and overlapped with necromancy and astrology. It did not appear to be at all ceremonial, and was to a great extent unsophisticated, save where it had been influenced by Indian and Buddhist monks, who also drew on native sources to enlarge their own knowledge.


Fielding, H. The Soul of a People. London: n.p., 1902.

Fytche, A. Burma, Past & Present. 2 vols. London: n.p., 1878.

Spiro, Melford E. Burmese Supernaturalism. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967.

Temple, Sir Richard C. The Thirtyseven Nats (Burmese Animism ). London: n.p., 1906.

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Official name: Union of Myanmar

Area: 678,500 square kilometers (261,969 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Hkakabo Razi (5,881 meters/19,295 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 6:30 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: 1,931 kilometers (1,200 miles) from north to south; 925 kilometers (575 miles) from east to west

Land boundaries: 5,876 kilometers (3,643 miles) total boundary length; Bangladesh 193 kilometers (120 miles); China 2,185 kilometers (1,355 miles); India 1,463 kilometers (907 miles); Laos 235 kilometers (146 miles); Thailand 1,800 kilometers (1,116 miles)

Coastline: 1,930 kilometers (1,197 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Myanmar is located in Southeast Asia, bordered by India and Bangladesh in the northwest, China in the northeast, Laos in the east, Thailand in the east and southeast, and the Indian Ocean to the south and the west. It is slightly smaller than the state of Texas.


Myanmar has no territories or dependencies.


Myanmar has a tropical climate with three seasons: a cool winter from November to February, a hot season in March and April, and a rainy season from May through October, when the southwest monsoon arrives. The average annual temperature is 28°C (82°F). Temperatures can dip below 0°C (32°F) in mountainous areas, and soar as high as 45°C (113°F) on the central plains. Humidity ranges from 66 percent to 83 percent. Most of the country's rainfall occurs during the monsoon. Annual average rainfall is 508 centimeters (200 inches) along the coast and 76 centimeters (30 inches) for central regions. Frost and snow occur in the high mountains of the north.


Myanmar, the largest nation of mainland Southeast Asia, has an extraordinary variety of terrain, from glaciers in the north to coral reefs in the south. There are four major topographic areas: mountains in the north and west, the Shan Highlands in the east, the plains of central Myanmar, and the delta and valley regions in the south near the Irrawaddy and Sittang Rivers.

In the late 1980s, the military government changed the name of the country from Burma to Myanmar; the government also changed the names or spellings of many geographic features.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

Myanmar's western shores curve along the Bay of Bengal, coming to a point at Cape Negrais. The Irrawaddy delta and the southeastern region's coasts together frame the upper corner of the Andaman Sea, joining at the Gulf of Martaban. All of these bodies of water are parts of the Indian Ocean.

Sea Inlets and Straits

There are no notable sea inlets or straits off Myanmar.

Islands and Archipelagos

Offshore, there are many large islands and hundreds of smaller ones. The islands of Myanmar's western coast and delta have been formed by erosion of the shoreline. Just off the northwest coast, the large islands of Ramree (1,350 square kilometers/520 square miles) and Cheduba (523 square kilometers/202 square miles) are part of the Ramri Group. Bilugyun is a large island on the southwest coast. Also in the southwest is an undersea ridgeline that forms the Mergui Archipelagosome nine hundred islands ranging in size from Kadan Island (440 square kilometers/170 square miles) to small rocks.

Coastal Features

In the northwest of Myanmar, the coast has rocky ridges with deep channels. After Cape Negrais, Myanmar's southern delta coast is formed by silt from the Irrawaddy and other rivers. From the mouth of the Sittang River, the coast stretches to the south, studded with inlets, rocky cliffs, and coral reefs.


An earthquake likely formed Myanmar's largest lake: Indawgyi, with an area of 116 square kilometers (45 square miles). The second-largest inland lake is the shallow Inle Lake, which covers about 67 square kilometers (26 square miles) on the Shan Plateau. It is the residue of an inland sea that is still shrinking. The lower Chindwin River basin has several crater lakes. Most other lakes and ponds are situated in the courses of former rivers.


The Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River, which is 2,170 kilometers (1,350 miles) long, is Myanmar's primary drainage system. Rising in the far north of Myanmar, the Irrawaddy flows south across the entire country before entering the sea through a nine-channel delta. It is the longest river found entirely within Myanmar. The Irrawaddy's most important tributary is the Chindwin River (960 kilometers/600 miles), which drains the northwest. The Sit-tang (Sittoung) River (483 kilometers/300 miles) rises just south of Mandalay and parallels the Irrawaddy on its eastern flank. The lower valleys of the Irrawaddy and Sittang Rivers form a vast, low-lying delta area of about 25,900 square kilometers (10,000 square miles) that continually expands into the sea due to silting.

Myanmar's other large river, the Salween (Thanlwin), rises in China and flows south across the Shan Plateau in eastern Myanmar. The Salween covers 1,325 kilometers (823 miles) within Myanmar, in a series of rapids and waterfalls that run through steep, narrow valleys.

In the eastern Shan State the mighty Mekong River (4,200 kilometers/2,600 miles) forms Myanmar's 235-kilometer (146-mile) border with Laos. In the southeast, many short streams run westward to the Andaman Sea, most notably the Tenasserim. There are also a number of small rivers in the southwest, flowing south out of the mountains into the Bay of Bengal.


The "dry zone" of north-central Myanmar has seven rainless months each year, during which its rivers go dry and windstorms are frequent.


The vast deltas and flood plains of the Irrawaddy and Sittang Rivers form the heart of Myanmar and provide its most productive farmland. Bamboo grows extensively in many parts of the country.

Myanmar used to be rich in rainforests, monsoon forests, and mangrove forests. Now, most of these woodlands are gone due to deforestation. The country's remaining forest cover, now less than 30 percent, is found mostly in the relatively inaccessible mountain areas of the north and northeast. The loss of forest cover in Myanmar not only has threatened animal and plant populations, but also has caused landslides, flooding, and drought.

Steep, craggy limestone hills with many caves are found in the Shan Plateau and in the southeastern part of the country. Elsewhere in Myanmar there are foothill areas leading up to the mountain chains.


There are many mountain ranges throughout the country. Myanmar's northern mountains, including the Patkai and Kumon ranges, are among the southernmost extensions of the Himalayas. These mountains are very high and rugged; they include Hkakabo Razi at the northernmost tip of the country. At 5,881 meters (19,295 feet), it is the highest peak in the nation.

The mountains run south along the western border with India and Bangladesh. This belt is composed of many ranges, including the Patkai, the Mangin, and the Chin Hills, which continue southward to the extreme southwestern corner of the country. The Arakan (Rakhine) Mountains extend southeastward along the coast. Notable peaks in the west include Saramati (3,860 meters/12,663 feet) and Mount Victoria (3,053 meters/10,016 feet). To the southeast of Mount Victoria, almost 2500 kilometers (160 miles) south of Mandalay, lies Mount Popa, a spectacular extinct volcano that rises 1,518 meters (5,009 feet) from the surrounding plains.

The Pegu Yoma (Bago) Mountains are in central Myanmar. In the southeast, the Dawna and Bilauktaung ranges mark the border with Thailand on the Malay Peninsula.


The Shan Plateau features deep limestone river gorges. The most notable are the gorge of the Salween (Thanlwin) River and Gokteik Gorge, which is cut by the Namtu River.


In northeast Myanmar, the Shan Plateau149,743 square kilometers (57,816 square miles) in arearises to an average elevation of about 914 meters (3,000 feet). Its western edge is clearly marked by a north-south cliff that often rises 610 meters (2,000 feet) in a single step.


Several artificial lakes and dams can be found throughout the river regions. The largest of the dams is the Thaphanseik Dam in Kyunhla Township, which was completed in 2001.



Steinberg, David J. The Future of Burma: Crisis and Choice in Myanmar. New York: Asia Society, 1990.

Yin, Saw Myat. Myanmar. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 2002.

Yip, Dora. Welcome to Myanmar. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens, 2001.

Web Sites

AsianInfo.Org: Myanmar. (accessed April 11, 2003).

Myanmar's Informative Resources on Culture, Travel, and Business. (accessed April 11, 2003).

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The people of Myanmar are called Burmese. The population is comprised of a number of ethnic groups. The Burman, related to the Tibetans, make up almost 70 percent of Myanmar's total population. Other ethnic groups remain distinct, and have sought to preserve their independence, sometimes by violent means. These groups include the Shans, making up about 7 percent of the population; the Karens, representing about 6 percent of the population; and other smaller groups, representing less than 5 percent of the population each.

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Myanmar Official name of Burma since 1989

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