Burma, a former British colony with a large and young population, has been under continuous military rule since Gen. Ne Win overthrew an elected civilian government in 1962 and replaced it with a repressive military government dominated by the majority Burman ethnic group.
In 1988, the military staged a brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters and a new junta calling itself the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) took power and renamed the country Myanmar. The junta maintains tight control over the media, the judiciary, and all aspects of civil society.
In 1990, the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi won national elections by a vast margin but has never been permitted to take office. The SLORC changed its named in 1997 to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).
Aung San Suu Kyi spent six years under house arrest from 1989-95 and was rearrested in May 2003 after gangs loyal to the junta staged a violent clash with her supporters. Members of her party are subject to routine surveillance and harassment.
Burma’s 42 million people are extremely poor, with an estimated annual per capita income of U.S. $300. International sanctions against the country remain widely in force, and existing health care, infrastructure, and education systems are poor. Burma’s ethnic minority populations include the Shan, the Karen, the Rakhine, Chinese, Indian, and Mon—many of whom have chafed violently for years against the military government in Rangoon.