Myanmar (also known as Burma) was formerly a British colony and a part of the UK's Indian Empire. In 1937, Britain made Burma a separate, self-governing colony, granting it independence in 1948. Independent Burma has long been ruled by a military junta. In 1989, the military junta officially changed the English version of the country's name from Burma to Myanmar.
The current regime is headed by Senior General Than Shwe, who is also the chairman of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). THE SPDC is responsible for suppressions of dissent and arrests of human rights activists, including Nobel Peace Prize Winner and National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Her party won a landslide victory in Myanmar’s first multi-party elections held in 1990, but the junta did not hand over power.
In 2009, Suu Kyi was tried for violating the terms of her house arrest. She was sentenced to another 18 months of house arrest, which means she will be in custody during next year's elections. World leaders heavily criticized the trial and its verdict.
In August 2007, the junta raised fuel prices, which led to protests by tens of thousands of pro-democracy activists and Buddhist monks. The protests were brutally suppressed a month later: at least 13 were killed and thousands more were arrested.
Sanctions led by the US have not achieved significant results. Myanmar became a full member of ASEAN in 1997, and both India and China maintain trade agreements with the nation. In addition, France’s oil interests and collaboration with the junta to exploit gas have minimized the impact of the European Union’s sanctions against the regime.
Burma has fertile soil, large offshore oil and gas deposits, and a growing tourism industry. But much of the nation is poor, and the economy is widely driven by the black market and unofficial border trade. Corruption and mismanagement are rampant in the junta-controlled industries. The military has also been accused of heroin trafficking.
Sources: BBC, International Crisis Group, CIA World Factbook.