Myanmar Information

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.
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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.
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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
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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
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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
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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,
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are disconcertingly unrealistic and foolhardy.