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WORLD | 01-02-2021 16:58

Myanmar: Diverse nation dominated by long arm of military rule

After only a decade of civilian rule, Myanmar's junta have grabbed power again, arresting elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi Monday after alleging fraud in her party's landslide election win in November.

After only a decade of civilian rule, Myanmar's junta have grabbed power again, arresting elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi Monday after alleging fraud in her party's landslide election win in November.

Here is some background about the hugely diverse country wedged between India and China, which has been condemned for its persecution of the Muslim Rohingya minority:

Longest civil war

Myanmar is home to more than 100 ethnic groups.

The majority are Burman and Buddhist but there are sizeable distinct minorities in a nation that also borders Bangladesh, Thailand and Laos.

Some of these ethnic groups have waged the world's longest civil war against the central state for the last 70 years, with conflict still raging in northern Kachin and eastern Shan states despite a recent ceasefire deal.

'Democratic' decade

After 49 years of military rule, the junta stepped back in 2011 and allowed a quasi-civilian government that restored basic rights.

In historic elections four years later, the head of the opposition National League for Democracy, Suu Kyi, won a landslide victory and became the country's de facto leader.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner, who spent nearly two decades under house arrest until her release in 2010, embodied a wave of hope that Myanmar was turning a corner on the road to democracy. 

Rohingya

But another long-running conflict involving the nation's Muslim Rohingya minority has tarnished Suu Kyi's image.

The Rohingya are refused citizenship and unable to travel freely in Myanmar.

In August 2017, the military torched many of their villages in the westernmost state of Rakhine, driving around 740,000 into neighbouring Bangladesh.

Aid organisation Doctors Without Borders said that at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in the first month of unrest.

The United Nations and the United States denounced the violence as "ethnic cleansing."

Suu Kyi pariah

Suu Kyi defended the crackdown on the Rohingya, leading to calls for her to be stripped of her Nobel as she became a pariah in the West.

She personally led Myanmar's defence of its actions at the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2019 after The Gambia accused the country of genocide. 

Two other cases have been filed against Myanmar, including an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICJ). 

It rejected Suu Kyi's defence last year and ordered Myanmar to take urgent steps to prevent genocide.

Some 600,000 Rohingya still live in Rakhine in what Amnesty International has branded "apartheid" conditions.

Drugs and rubies

Blessed with a bounty of natural resources – from rubies and jade to gas, oil and teak – fertile Burma, as the country was once known, was also famed as Asia's rice bowl.

But nearly half a century of ruinous economic policies by the military saw its people sink into poverty as the generals plunged the country into isolation.

With the end of outright military rule in 2011, the nation's fortunes improved dramatically. Investment poured in and its growth rates were among the highest in Asia.

But a third of the population of 54 million people still live in poverty and much of the infrastructure is in a dire state.

And its illegal multi-billion-dollar drug trade is believed to outstrip that of its more infamous rivals in Latin America.

Rebellious eastern Shan state is the epicentre of production, where a network of local armed groups link up with transnational trafficking gangs.

– AFP

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