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Last updated : Nov 2009
Myanmar History
Myanmar History - TravelPuppy.com
Formerly known (and often still referred to) as Burma, the area of Myanmar was populated through 3 surges of emigration: by the Hmon people from what is now Cambodia, next by Mongol people from the eastern Himalayas, and finally by Thai people from northern Thailand.

Unifying these diverse groups was a daunting task, first achieved by the Buddhist King Anawratha, to mold the heart of a mighty Kingdom created during the 9th century. It lasted 200 years and was succeeded by the less steady Kingdom of Pagan (presently known as Bagan). In 1287, Pagan fell before the occupying Mongols, led by Genghis Khan’s grandson Kublai Khan. After the downfall of the Mongol empire at the end of the 14th century, Burma was sliced up between warring tribes, with Siam (Thailand) the influential power in the region, until the Tanugoo dynasty defeated Siam and reunited the country in the mid-16th century. By the mid-18th century, a new dynasty was formed under King Alaungpaya with its capital in Yangon but the country once again fell apart as the Hmon tribes broke away to build their own kingdoms.

In 1824, the British, motivated by magestic aspirations and impelled by recurrent border conflicts, took control of Burma as part of British India. In 1937 Burma was given separate dominion status. During World War II, the Japanese ejected the British from Burma and tried to coopt Burmese political support and offered titular independence under Japanese influence. The rival to the Japanese, who were conquered in 1944, was the centre of the post-war freedom movement led by Aung San.

A greatly respected figure in contemporary Myanmar, Aung San led the country to independence in 1948 but was unfortunately murdered the same year. A 1962 military coup brought to power Ne Win, who renamed the country Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma and imposed an eccentric autocratic dictatorship.

In 1988, following years of unusual policies, isolationism and incessant economic mismanagement by the then Burma Socialist Programme Party at last resulted in a popular rebellion, with students and Buddhist monks, to the fore.

In September that year, the military took action. The demonstrations were cruelly repressed and the political upheaval quickly ended. Far from threatening it, the putsch reinforced the position of Ne Win; the coup leader, General Saw Maung, and his senior staff were all known as long-standing supporters of the reclusive dictator. Though Ne Win renounced his official title as the country leader, he continued to exercise strong power over the running of the country. Ex-army General Tin Oo along with the Western-educated liberal Aung Sang Suu Kyi, daughter of Aung San, led the major domestic antagonism.

After squashing internal political hostility, the Ne Win junta concluded in 1989 that some political compromises were essential (mainly to appease international opinion) and declared that elections would take place. The main rival movements campaigned under the banner of the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, and won in the May 1990 elections, gaining 80% of the seats in the National Assembly. However, the regime used complicated delaying tactics and harassment of opposition leaders to maintain power; Suu Kyi herself was held under house arrest and stayed there for 5 years.

The regime also had to endure several border insurrection: the most effective of these was waged by the Karen tribe in the eastern component of Myanmar, who were fighting for complete autonomy and whose ranks periodically grew with rebellious students fleeing from the capital. After military successes in the late 1990s, the Karen insurrection became slightly quiet; however, there was a sudden increase in attacks against the army and main economic targets in 2003.

During the early 1990s, the regime, which now called itself the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), had become an international pariah. However, as the decade passed, changes in the regime brought to the fore the ex-intelligence chief Khin Nyunt as the new SLORC leader. A stronger figure than the ageing and increasingly demented Ne Win, he re-armed and strengthened the Yangon regime by developing vital means of revenue from logging, gem deposits and drug trafficking.

In July 1997, Myanmar achieved full membership of the As sociation of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), thereby gaining a degree of international legitimacy. Moreover, ASEAN policy emphasizes strict non- intervention in the internal affairs of member states. SLORC’s decision in November 1997 to rename itself as the more media-friendly State Peace and Development Council was, perhaps, indicative of its confidence.

The problem of ‘The Lady’, Aung San Suu Kyi would not disappear. In September 2000, she was again put under house arrest. But with the economy once again having serious difficulties and Myanmar largely isolated from the rest of the world, the junta had no choice but to negotiate. She was released, without conditions, in May 2002.

The National League for Democracy, meanwhile, has been treated with more tolerance than it previously had. This period lasted for a little over a year; she was re-arrested in May 2003 and imprisoned. As of December 2003, she was still being held, and once again the junta is the subject of international sanctions.