Myanmar Information – Everything You Want To Know About Myanmar

1. Geographical Location

Myanmar is located in South East Asia bordering the People’s Republic of China on the North and North East, Laos on the East, Thailand on the South East, Bangladesh on the West and India on the North West. It is also strategically located between South Asia and South East Asia. More interestingly, Myanmar is sandwiched between the two most populous nations in the World– China and India. Bangladesh, 5 times smaller in size with a population 3 times larger than Myanmar, is another of her neighbours. The former, unlike Myanmar is not blessed with abundant natural resources, in addition to which she has the misfortune to be battered by natural disasters almost every year.

2. People And Religion

Myanmar comprises eight major national ethnic races with some 135 ethnic groups. The major national races are Kachin, Kayin, Kayah, Chin, Mon, Bamar, Rakhine and Shan. The Bamar form the largest national race constituting 70% of the whole population. In the religious sector, 89.2% of the population is Buddhist, while Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Animism are also practised.

3. Pre-Independence Days

The divide-and-rule policy with which the British had ruled Myanmar for over 100 years paved the way to the outbreak of insurrections as soon as she regained independence. Moreover during the years of struggle for independence, a variety of conflicting ideoligies and ideas had proliferated and infused the thought of those who had participated in the struggle and bred differences in outlook and attitudes. All this eventually caused the disintegration of the national unity and solidarity just prior to independence. Myanmar’s national hero General Aung San and his ministers were assassinated in July 1947 through the complicity of the colonial conservative government. It was the most damaging act in the history of Myanmar. It left the country almost leaderless on regaining her independence from Britain in January 1948. The British also forcefully introduced the production of opium in the northern Myanmar states in the 19th Century with the aim of increasing the opium trade with China. Myanmar inherited these problems which have remained an entrenched and a current issue.

4. Confusion Over The Name Of The Country – Myanmar Or Burma

Refusing to call a nation by its proper official name may seem insignificant to some but generates resentment among a very high majority of the Myanmar population. The subject is concerned with the recognition of the country by its original name. Of course, there are a few politicians in Myanmar who for certain political reasons prefer to retain the name Burma given by the former British Colonial Administration. Myanmar and its capital Yangon are not new names created by the State Law and Order Restoration Council. In fact, Myanmar and Yangon are the original names that were renamed Burma and Rangoon by the British Colonial Administration. In spite of the fact that in the Myanmar language people use the names Myanmar and Yangon, unfortunately, none of the successive Myanmar Governments took the trouble of reinstating the original names. The SLORC administration did so with two main purposes: to provide a feeling of release from the British colonial past and to give a previously divided and fractious country a sense of national unity under the new banner of “The Union of Myanmar”.

In the Union of Myanmar there are 8 major national races with some 135 ethnic groups and among the 8 major nationalities Bamar is the largest national race constituting 70% of the whole population. In this regard, when the British Colonial Administration colonized Myanmar in the late 1800’s it is presumed that Britain renamed it Burma since Bamar or Burmans (the British usage) were the majority in the country which they occupied. In a cave temple built in the Bagan area is a stone tablet bearing a date equivalent to AD 1190. It is one of the first known references to ‘Myanmar’. In contrast, the name ‘Bamar’ did not appear during this and subsequent periods. The first reference to Bamar was only found in artifacts and buildings dating from the KONBAUNG Period (18th and 19th centuries). Moreover, it is quite interesting to know that China since ancient times has referred to Myanmar as Myan-Tin in the Chinese language. It never referred to Myanmar as Burma-Tin or Bur-Tin as the British Colonial Administration had re-named it.

A few years ago in Yangon there was an interview between members of the media and some of the leaders of the ethnic races (former insurgent groups) and the question of name-change was raised by some of the media.

The ethnic leaders’ response was that they now feel they are not left out but are being equally given a national identity under the name Myanmar. Naturally, the ethnic group still opposing the Myanmar Government will say things differently because they have aligned themselves with the political party which refuses to recognize the country by its original name. The party (National League for Democracy) stated that the namechange is not a priority and it has to be carried out with a vote. It is quite amazing for someone to say such a thing since national unity is and always would be a top priority in any country in the world. It would be highly pertinent to ask, if the British Colonial Administration implemented the name-change with a vote. If General Aung San, MyanmarÂ’s national leader, had not been assassinated in 1947, before Myanmar regained her independence, the national leaders of the time would have definitely reinstated the original names. The new names imposed by the British are not only phonetically wrong but nationally and historically misrepresentative. Anyhow, since the United Nations has recognized Myanmar by her original name it is the obligation of all U.N. member countries to accept it whether they approve of it or not. If the situation had been reversed, certainly, these same nations would be urging the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to impose sanctions and embargoes on countries not recognizing and implementing the U.N. resolution or mandate.

5. Insurgency After Post-Independence Days

After regaining independence from Britain in 1948 a civilian government (Parliamentary Democracy Government) ruled the country. Because of internal party conflicts and clashes with the then 2 other opposition parties the government in power gave priority only to its party affairs and means and ways to get re-elected in the coming election. To cite one glaring example to show the extremes they went to, the then prime minister proclaimed Buddhism, which has over 80% of the population as its followers in the country, to be the State Religion of Myanmar to canvass votes for his party from the Buddhist majority of the population. At the same time the needs and requirements of the ethnic races were ignored and neglected.Unfortunately, his move created rebellion among the ethnic races professing other religious faiths and automatically led to armed insurrection in the country. Although, it was clear from the very beginning that the then government was wrong in their steps in the first place, the military had neither voice nor choice but to follow orders in fighting all the insurgent groups the government had created. The fighting lasted 45 years.

6. The Narcotic Drugs Problem

During the peak of its insurgency in 1949, over 75% of the entire country was in the hands of various armed insurgent groups. Half of Mandalay and the outskirts of Yangon were also under the control of the insurgents. Myanmar was at that time mockingly nicknamed the Rangoon Government by the Western World which also refused to sell the government badly needed arms and ammunition to repel the insurgent groups. The Myanmar Armed Forces together with the people of the country fought and pushed back the armed groups and eventually gained the upper hand. Unfortunately, during this time in 1950, an outside intrusion started to take place in the North East and Eastern borders of Myanmar. The Kuomintang (KMT) troops which were being forced out of Southern Yunnan Province of China by the People’s Liberation Army of P.R.C. took refuge and established base camps on Myanmar territory. These activities were encouraged, supported and financed by a western power with the aim of blocking further communist expansion in Asia. After the Second World War, the C.I.A. encouraged the production of opium in this region to help finance its own activities and of its KMT allies. The proceeds were also used to pay for the considerable arsenal of arms supplied to the KMT and the various ethnic groups in Myanmar. During this period two U.S. ambassadors to Myanmar, William J. Sebald and David Mc Key resigned in protest because they were not kept informed of their government’s activities in this drug producing area. There is no doubt that these activities sowed the seeds of the current drug production problems in North and North-Eastern Myanmar. Although the KMT were officially flown out of Myanmar under U.N. supervision in the early 60′ s, remnants of the 2 divisions of KMT were still active on Myanmar’s North East and Eastern borders until the time of the drug warlord Khun Sa’s surrender about 4 years ago in 1996. It is also interesting to know that the KMT encouraged not only the growing of opium in the Golden Triangle area as well as on the MyanmarYunnan border but were also responsible for the refining of opium into heroin and creating heroin markets in the region.

7. War Against Narcotic Drugs

Since 1974 Myanmar has co-operated with the U.S. Government in the anti-narcotic operations and was highly commended for her efforts by that Government. The U.S. Government assisted Myanmar with $ 68 million for a period of 14 years starting from 1974 to 1988 mainly in training Myanmar officials and for the spare parts and equipment used in the drug eradication operations. During this period 92 Myanmar law enforcement officials were killed in action while 512 were seriously wounded. A pilot and an aircraft were also lost during the aerial spraying operation. It has also been learnt from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency that Myanmar’s efforts managed to stop $19 billion worth of heroin from reaching the streets of Western countries,mainly the United States. Although the U.S. has cut off its assistance since 1988, Myanmar has without any substantial outside assistance managed from 1988 up to 1996 prevented $ 45 billion worth of heroin from reaching the U.S. streets. At the same time Myanmar law enforcement officials managed to break the notorious drug army of Khun Sa in the Golden Triangle area and had him surrender unconditionally. Myanmar casualities consisted of 766 law enforcement officials killed in action while 2300 were seriously wounded together with great loss of property as well. In this fight against narcotic drugs the U.S. and the Western World have not only refused to recognize and encourage Myanmar’s efforts but are in fact also putting obstacles in her fight against narcotic armies by imposing an arms embargo. The drug armies were given the privilege of using sophisticated weapons to fight against the government troops inflicting heavy casualities while the government troops were using weapons of inferior quality. In other words the U.S. and its western allies are not only refusing to assist Myanmar in her fight against drugs but also making it physically incapable and impossible to do so by their imposition of an arms embargo on Myanmar.

8. Accusing Myanmar Of Not Being Serious In The Fight Against Narcotic Drugs

In spite of all the natural obstacles and man-made difficulties imposed by the western nations, Myanmar has managed single-handedly to break the army of the drug warlord Khun Sa with her own limited resources. It was achieved by sacrificing a lot of blood, sweat and tears on the part of the Myanmar Defence Forces and Myanmar law enforcement officials and was enormously commended by the rest of the world for her success and efforts. Even after Myanmar’s success in bringing about the unconditional surrender of Khun Sa resulting in the disbanding of Khun Sa’s Mong Tai Army and having Khun Sa himself under the government custody or supervision, the Western World especially the U.S. and U.K. have continued accusing Myanmar of not being serious in the fight against narcotic drugs, for not extraditing Khun Sa to the United States and also for not prosecuting Khun Sa and other ethnic leaders. It is quite interesting to compare the methods implemented by the U.S. and Myanmar in handling such issues. The U.S. prosecuted Noriega and Escobal as a great public relations showcase for the American Government. But if one should raise a query: “Did it stop or reduce the flow of drugs coming to the U.S. from those countries?, the answer is, of course, no. The method Myanmar utilized against Khun Sa after his unconditional surrender was to disband his army and then to have Khun Sa and his top aides under government control and supervision. His troops were sent back to their respective villages to live and work there as normal citizens while the leaders were also given financial and other necessary assistance to start a new life in legitimate businesses. The leaders may have assets abroad but since no country has come up with such information the Myanmar Government has no choice but to take the responsibility of providing them with a new and legitimate life-style so that they can be absorbed into the mainstream of life. So far this method has proven to be realistic in solving the problem althought may not be a good move for Public Relations. Moreover, according to our on-ground calculations we have noticed a significant decline in the production of opium although western nations have reported things differently. However, Myanmar sincerely wishes for the countries that are seriously affected and inflicted by this narcotic drug-menace not only to stop pointing the finger and scapegoating others but also to seriously find more realistic and practical methods to tackle this problem. Pressuring others to accept and carry out methods which have undeniably failed in the past will definitely not help us in our fight against narcotic drugs. In fighting the menace of illicit drugs, the superpowers should realize that constantly putting the blame on a small nation, already overwhelmed and victimized by the introduction of narcotic drugs by others in the past, would be counterproductive and futile. Moreover, in the case of Myanmar, the U.S. Government’s adamant and irrational refusal to give recognition to its antinarcotic endeavours on the one hand and on the other, not caring enough nor doing enough to stop or at least curb the consumer or demand side, are disconcertingly unrealistic and foolhardy.