At A Glance
After half a century of brutal military rule Myanmar's junta in 2011 handed power to a nominally civilian government, which has since won near-universal praise for its reforms.
The government is pursuing complex political negotiations with several ethnic minority rebel groups that have agreed ceasefires after decades of conflict under military rule. Conflict, however, continues in the northern Kachin state.
Violence in Rakhine State between Buddhist Rakhines and stateless Muslim Rohingyas have displaced tens of thousands of people in 2012, amid fears the tensions could destabilise the entire region.
The junta's military crackdowns on ethnic minorities and rebel groups drove large numbers to seek refuge in neighbouring countries and displaced hundreds of thousands of people in eastern Myanmar.
Myanmar's secretive government became increasingly severe after the late 1980s, jailing hundreds of students, intellectuals and opponents.
Democracy campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi spent years under house arrest. Her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won elections in 1990 but was not allowed to take power. But in 2012, NLD candidates swept the board in parliamentary by-elections, and Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to parliament.
In 2007, a protest against rising fuel prices turned into a full-blown democracy movement. Street marches led by Buddhist monks presented the biggest challenge to the junta's supremacy in nearly two decades. An unknown number of protesters were killed and thousands arrested in an army crackdown.
Much of the world imposed sanctions on the country, previously known as Burma, for its poor human rights record and for not stamping out a thriving drugs trade.
International sanctions have been eased since the civilian government's political and economic reforms.
In May 2008, a massive cyclone hit the country's Irrawaddy Delta, killing nearly 140,000 and affecting more than 2 million people. ;See AlertNet's Myanmar cyclone briefing.
Myanmar's military junta handed power to a nominally civilian government in March 2011. Although the leadership is still dominated by the same people who controlled the secretive country for almost two decades, Myanmar has introduced a series of democratic reforms.
Democracy campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory in the 2012 parliamentary by-elections.
"The NLD has become the largest opposition party. This does not alter the balance of power, given that only a small percentage of seats were contested, but it is of major symbolic importance," the International Crisis Group said in April 2012.
The military junta, which came to power in the 1960s, cracked down hard on political opposition and ethnic minorities.
The country was once known as the rice bowl of Asia with good health and education systems and plenty of natural resources. Now it has some of the worst health indicators in the region and poverty is widespread.
The U.S. State Department says Myanmar, called Burma until the regime changed its name in 1989, has been one of the world's worst human rights violators. Hundreds of opponents were jailed or put under house arrest. Suu Kyi was released in November 2010 after spending most of the previous 21 years under house arrest.
In 2005, the junta moved Myanmar's capital to a new city being built from scratch some 320 km (200 miles) north of the old capital Yangon. Naypyitaw, which means "Abode of Kings," is comprised of lavish government buildings, palaces, mansions and hotels.
Analysts say the city must have cost billions of dollars, drawing criticism from aid groups over the priorities of a country facing chronic poverty and crumbling infrastructure.
The government waged war on ethnic groups for decades, especially those in the border states in the east and west. The world's longest-running civil wars were in the Karen and Karenni homelands in eastern Myanmar, where armed insurgents fought the government for more than 60 years.
The majority of ethnic armed groups have signed preliminary ceasefires with the government.
But serious clashes continue in Kachin State, where a 17-year ceasefire deal with one of the largest groups - the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) - broke down in June 2011.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the army has forcibly displaced thousands of civilians, who fled to KIO-controlled or government-controlled territory and into China. The army has attacked Kachin villages and razed homes, tortured civilians, raped women, used antipersonnel mines, and conscripted forced labourers on the front lines, including children as young as 14, the U.S.-based rights group said in March 2012.
By June 2012, President Thein Sein had twice ordered the army to stop the offensive but the fighting continued.
Ceasefire agreements with other groups remain fragile and could unravel unless progress is made in addressing the underlying political grievances, International Crisis Group said in April 2012. ;
Fighting continues in Karen and Shan states despite the ceasefire agreements, the Thailand-based Back Pack Health Worker Team (BPHWT) said in June 2012.
The military pursued a "Four Cuts" counter-insurgency strategy, in which it tried to defeat armed ethnic groups by denying them access to food, funds, recruits and information from other insurgent groups.
Human rights advocates, journalists and residents accuse government soldiers of killing villagers, raping women and girls, stealing food, destroying homes and possessions, using slave labour and being involved in the drugs trade.
Human Rights Watch has accused the government of ethnic cleansing, destroying the villages of minority groups, not just in areas of active ethnic insurgency but also in areas targeted for infrastructure development. Minorities affected include the Shan, Mon, Karen, Palaung, Chin, Karenni (a sub-tribe of the Karen) and Rohingya.
Ethnic insurgents also perpetrate abuses, and use civilians in their territories to supply them with food, porters, soldiers and information, Human Rights Watch said.
Across the country, conflict and decades of government repression forced millions of people to flee their homes. Many have been displaced for decades, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) said.
It is difficult to estimate numbers because displacement is impossible to measure in areas under government control, IDMC said in July 2011.
However, an estimated 340,000 people were internally displaced and more than 410,000 living across the country's borders at the end of 2011, the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said.
Fighting between the army and ethnic Kachin rebels in the country's north forced many to flee their homes in 2011. Tens of thousands are trapped in the jungles along the border with China and living in squalid conditions with little aid, and thousands more have crossed over to China, the Kachin Women's Association – Thailand (KWAT) said in June 2012.
Human Rights Watch has accused China of forcibly returning scores of ethnic Kachins, saying this put the returnees at risk of armed violence and abuse by Myanmar's army.
In the west of the predominantly Buddhist country, the Muslim Rohingya people and other minority groups along the borders with Bangladesh and India suffer discrimination and forced relocation. It is impossible to estimate the numbers affected, but thousands of Rohingyas have been displaced in government schemes to resettle the urban poor and build large-scale infrastructure projects.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced by clashes between Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists which began in Rakhine state in June 2012. That month, the president declared a state of emergency in Rakhine state.
The violence flared after the gang rape and murder of a Buddhist Rakhine woman was blamed on Muslims. A district court sentenced two men to death for the woman's death. The rape incident led to calls for retribution that were swiftly answered by Buddhist vigilantes, who lynched 10 Muslims with no ties to the alleged killers.
In October 2012 – when violence flared again – the secretary general of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, warned continuing violence in Rakhine could destabilise the entire region.
Almost all of the displaced are Muslims, mostly stateless Rohingyas, UNHCR said.
Around 800,000 Rohingyas live in Myanmar, where they are considered illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. They were deprived of citizenship, free movement, education and employment under the country's former military rulers – a situation that persists today. Bangladesh has refused to grant Rohingyas refugee status since 1992.
Thousands of Rohingyas live in refugee camps in Bangladesh. At the end of 2011, another 200,000 Rohingyas were living in makeshift settlements or mixed in with the local population in border areas, Human Rights Watch said.
In Myanmar's east, hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes. Many have crossed into Thailand since 1984, risking minefields and army patrols to get there. About 140,000 live in nine closed camps along the Thai-Myanmar border. Under Thai law, they have no right to employment and they have to stay in the camps or face arrest and deportation.
Many others are living in poverty in Thailand as economic migrants.
Large numbers of people have also fled to India and Malaysia. They face a host of hardships as asylum seekers or illegal immigrants, including social and economic discrimination.
Some of Myanmar's displacement is caused by infrastructure projects. The army and its allied armed groups have forcibly displaced villagers from their homes and land for development projects and military camps in Karen and Shan states, BPHWT said in June 2012.
Child soldiers and forced labour
The military recruited tens of thousands of boys into the national army, typically by force, coercion or intimidation, according to a 2008 report by Human Rights Watch (HRW). ;Child soldiers reported being made to participate in human rights violations against civilians, including summary executions.
A smaller number of children have been conscripted into rebel groups.
Hundreds of thousands of villagers in conflict areas have been forced to "porter" for military operations, as well as build army bases and infrastructure projects including roads, bridges, railways and dams, human rights advocates say.
Those refusing to work for free have been threatened with prosecution, or forced to pay instead of working, rights groups have said. People were shot or beaten to death if they did not carry out their duties correctly, and anyone found to have made what the government deemed "false complaints" to the International Labour Organization have faced prosecution, rights groups also say.
Rights organisations say the "tatmadaw" – as the army is called in Burmese – put much of the burden on ethnic minorities, and has been especially harsh on women and children.
"Girls as young as five years old have been made to perform forced labour duties, and women have been forced to serve and otherwise entertain troops against their will," Amnesty International said.
The military has also forced convicts to serve as porters and used them as human shields in the country's war zones, HRW said in July 2011.
In March 2012, the government and the International Labour Organization agreed to eliminate forced labour in the country by 2015. ;
Hunger and disease
Myanmar produces a surplus of rice and maize, yet many of its people do not have enough to eat. About a third of children under five years old are underweight, according to the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF).
The government placed restrictions on the movement of people and goods, especially in the border states.
The ruling junta forced rice farmers to sell to the government at cheap prices and refused to contemplate relaxing restrictions on free movement and trade.
The country's rice crops were decimated when Cyclone Nargis ploughed through the Irrawaddy Delta in May 2008, killing tens of thousands and leaving 2.4 million destitute. See AlertNet's Myanmar Cyclone briefing ;for more.
Myanmar's health statistics are some of the worst in the region. The government spends just $2 per person per year on healthcare, the World Health Organization said in 2012.
Malaria is one of Myanmar's biggest killers because people do not have access to suitable healthcare. The country has one of the highest HIV rates in Asia, and the minority who receive anti-retroviral drug treatment depend on aid agencies for the drugs.
Tuberculosis (TB) rates are also high, and treatment is often interrupted because drugs are not always available. This can lead to the development of drug-resistant TB.
Highly drug resistant strains of malaria have been found along the Thai-Myanmar border, and medical experts are concerned this will spread and cause a major setback in the global fight against the disease.
The country's worst health statistics are among the internally displaced ethnic minorities of eastern Myanmar, the BPHWT says.
Many die of malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory infections. The rate of women dying as a result of pregnancy or childbirth is one of the highest in the world.
Pressure on aid workers
Under the military junta, international aid agencies faced tight government restrictions and very limited donor funding because of the government's dismal human rights record.
Funding is still low despite donors' renewed interest in Southeast Asia's poorest country and despite its huge needs, aid agencies said in June 2012.
Since the government's recent push to reform, aid workers say the humanitarian community now faces bureaucratic challenges to working in the country.
Agencies have to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with individual ministries and register formally with the Ministry of Home Affairs, which can take months to complete. Foreign aid workers need authorisation to travel around the country, and this is sometimes granted only on the eve of the trip.
The U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar said in March 2012 that international aid agencies still had problems accessing those affected by conflict.
Clampdown on political activists
The military junta did not permit freedom of expression, assembly and association. It banned almost all opposition political activity and persecuted pro-democracy and human rights activists. Hundreds of political prisoners – students, intellectuals and opponents of the junta – were held in overflowing jails or under house arrest.
In 1988, student protests resulted in a crackdown by the military government, and opposition leader Suu Kyi became the public face of the democracy movement. She is the daughter of nationalist leader General Aung San, who was assassinated in 1947, the year before independence from Britain.
She has spent much of her life since 1989 under house arrest. She was released in November 2010.
With Suu Kyi at its helm, the opposition National League for Democracy won hands down in parliamentary elections in 1990, but the military leadership refused to allow the new legislature to convene and imprisoned many activists.
Suu Kyi went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
Though her followers were persecuted and she herself was assaulted by the junta's supporters, Suu Kyi's party continued to call for reconciliation rather than violent protest.
Much of the West imposed sanctions on Myanmar for its poor human rights record and for failing to stamp out a thriving drugs trade. The U.N. drug agency said in its 2012 survey ;that Myanmar was one of the world's biggest drug-producing centres, and that production rose in 2011.
But Myanmar enjoyed the guarded acceptance of its neighbours and increasingly close ties with China, North Korea and Russia.
At the end of 2007, the regime drew condemnation from around the world for its harsh response to pro-democracy protests initiated by the country's Buddhist monks.
When tens of thousands took to the streets of Yangon, the military cracked down, beating and detaining protesters. The authorities put the number of deaths at 10. The United Nations' special rapporteur on human rights for Myanmar said at least 31 people had died but activists estimated the toll at over 70.
Most of the monks who led the campaign disappeared, and their monasteries were left empty or barricaded by the military. The government also temporarily shut down the country's internet and mobile phone connections, making it harder for the outside world to find out what was going on.
The junta said it had rounded up nearly 3,000 people, but announced at the end of 2007 that all but 80 had been released. However, Amnesty International ;said in 2008 that at least 700 people picked up during and after the protests remained behind bars – in addition to an estimated 1,150 people already in jail for their political or religious beliefs.
The crisis, dubbed the Saffron Revolution after the colour of the monks' robes, had parallels with the 1988 pro-democracy uprising when 3,000 people died in an army crackdown.
The International Committee of the Red Cross ;was barred from visiting prisons from late 2005 until 2011, when the new government gave the organisation limited access. ;
On May 10, 2008, Myanmar held a referendum on a new constitution that was a key step in the junta's "roadmap to democracy," culminating in multi-party elections in November 2010. Western governments dismissed the constitution and the roadmap as a blueprint for the army to legitimise its grip on power.
Under the constitution, a quarter of the seats in the lower house, the senate, and the seven state and seven regional assemblies are reserved for serving military officers, appointed by the armed forces chief.
Myanmar's NLD opposition called for people to vote "No" to the constitution, which also gave the army control of key ministries and the right to suspend the constitution at will. The junta said more than 92 percent of the ballots cast were in favour of the charter.
In the lead-up to the 2010 elections – the country's first in two decades – the junta clamped down on political activists. Suu Kyi and other political prisoners were not allowed to run.
The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), closely aligned with junta supremo Than Shwe, won the election by a landslide after a vote denounced by pro-democracy parties as rigged to preserve authoritarian rule.
In March 2011, the new parliament approved the dissolution of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) – the military junta's official name – to make way for a nominally civilian government. It marked the end of 49 years of direct military rule.
Former SPDC members took posts as president, vice-president, parliament speaker, cabinet ministers or chief ministers of most of the country's 14 regions.
Myanmar's reformist government surprised observers by freeing hundreds of dissidents, loosening restrictions on the political opposition and abolishing pre-publication censorship – reforms which led to an easing of Western sanctions. ;
It also expressed its intention to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative to regulate an industry that has so far been opaque.
Myanmar has one of the world's worst records for corruption. In 2011, only Somalia and North Korea were more corrupt than Myanmar, according to Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.
Yet many concerns remain – on the treatment of religious and ethnic minorities, the poor state of farming, health needs and the sustainability of the reforms. ;
Many rural areas have yet to benefit from the reforms, however the government has pledged to put agriculture at the centre of its aim to reduce poverty in the country. ;
Amnesty International's Myanmar page and Human Rights Watch ;carry regular reports on abuses.
U.S.-based advocacy group Refugees International ;follows policy changes in the United States, one of Myanmar's harshest critics.
The U.S. State Department has a Myanmar section with general background.
For more on displacement, see the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre's Myanmar section.
Belgian-based think tank International Crisis Group ;tracks developments in Myanmar.
The Back Pack Health Worker Team ;and Medecins Sans Frontieres ;produce useful reports on health in Myanmar, including among the displaced.
The Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma ;carries stories of interest to the country's diaspora and human rights workers.
The Karen Human Rights Group's website ;documents abuses.
There are numerous advocacy groups, including The National Council of the Union of Burma ;the umbrella organisation of Burmese groups in exile, The Free Burma Coalition, the U.S. Campaign for Burma ;and the Burma Campaign UK.
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime ;reports annually on the world's biggest drug producers including Myanmar.
Myanmar.com is a government-run website.
1044 - Foundation of the Pagan Dynasty, considered "Golden Age" of Burmese history
1287 - Mongol invasion destroys the Pagan. Ethnic Shan rulers, who had established a political centre at Ava, fill political vacuum. A series of different dynasties, invasions by the Chinese and wars with the British follow
1752 onwards - The final Burman royal dynasty, the Konbaung, established. Wars are fought with ethnic Mons, Arakanese, and Siamese. This period sees four invasions by the Chinese and three wars with the British
1824 - The British begin colonising Burma and expanding their holdings after each of the three wars
1885 - British gain complete control of Burma, annexing it to India. The British establish strong administrative institutions and reorganise the economy from subsistence farming to a large-scale export economy
1939 - Burma becomes world's leading exporter of rice
1941 - Burmese nationalists, led by General Aung San, join Japanese forces in driving out the British at the outbreak of World War Two, only to backtrack in mid-1945, when the Burmese Army switches sides and helps U.S. and British forces reach Rangoon
1947 - General Aung San sets up a cabinet, but is assassinated along with most of its members before a constitution can be put into effect
1948 - Myanmar becomes independent from Britain
1949 - Karen Free State proclaimed by KNU President Saw Baw U Gyi, the start of an insurgency movement
1958 - Prime Minister U Nu asks military to help restore order. They do and step down after 18 months
1962 - General Ne Win leads a coup, abolishes the constitution and founds a socialist, military and isolationist government. Economy is devastated
Aug - The military kills more than 1,000 demonstrators at protests in Rangoon. In a rally after this violence, the daughter of General Aung San, Aung San Suu Kyi, makes her first political speech and takes the helm of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD)
Sep - Military deposes Ne Win's Burmese Socialist Program Party (BSPP) and establishes a new ruling junta called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). SLORC sends army onto streets to suppress public demonstrations. About 3,000 are killed and more than 10,000 students flee the city. Martial law imposed
Jun - Junta changes country's name from Burma to Myanmar
May - Parliamentary elections held. Even though she is under house arrest, Suu Kyi's NLD wins 82 percent of parliamentary seats. SLORC refuses to recognise results
Dec - NLD and other anti-government groups elect Sein Win, a first cousin of Suu Kyi, as head of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB) - a government in exile
1991 - Suu Kyi wins Nobel Peace Prize
1995 - Suu Kyi released from house arrest but soon apprehended
1997 - Junta changes its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Then-U.S. President Bill Clinton bans all new investments in the country, while EU suspends privileged trade relationships with Myanmar
1999 - Suu Kyi's husband, British academic Michael Aris, dies of cancer in Britain, after failing to get a Myanmar visa to see his wife for the last time. She fears travelling to see him in case she is denied permission to return. The military government says Suu Kyi can travel to Britain for the funeral, but she declines
2002 - Suu Kyi travels throughout country after she is allowed to leave her home
2003 - A pro-government crowd attacks Suu Kyi and a convoy of her supporters. Suu Kyi and NLD Vice Chairman U Tin Oo remain under house arrest
2004 - Members of the senior military leadership consolidate power by ousting Prime Minister Khin Nyunt and remove him and his allies from control of the military intelligence apparatus
Junta releases thousands of prisoners - including political prisoners - who it says were improperly jailed by Khin Nyunt's National Intelligence Bureau
2005 - Authorities release at least a few hundred political prisoners, including key figures in the 1988 demonstrations
Apr-May - Several explosions kill more than 20 people and wound several hundred
Nov - Government moves national capital from Yangon to a greenfield site near Pyinmana
Mar - The new capital is named "Naypyidaw" meaning "Seat of Kings"
Apr - Army accused of its biggest offensive against the ethnic Karen people in years
May - Ibrahim Gambari, U.N. undersecretary for political affairs, is the first senior U.N. official allowed into the country for more than two years
Jan - China and Russia veto a U.S.-submitted Security Council resolution calling on the military junta to stop persecution of minority and ethnic groups
Sep - Tens of thousands take to streets in pro-democracy protests initiated by Buddhist monks. Junta cracks down. Unknown number killed and other detained
May 2-3 - Cyclone Nargis hits Myanmar, killing nearly 140,000 people and affecting over 2 million
May 10 - Myanmar holds referendum on new constitution and delays vote in areas hit by cyclone to May 24
May 15 - Junta says referendum has approved new constitution, with a 92.4 percent "yes" vote
Jun - Government improves humanitarian access
Jul - Tripartite Core Group estimates post-cyclone recovery costs at $1 bln. U.S. toughens sanctions, targeting military control over precious stones
Jan - Thailand expels hundreds of Myanmar's Rohingya minority who appeared off its coast. Many are rescued from boats off the coast of Indonesia
Mar - UNHCR increases aid to Rohingya minority in northern Rakhine state
Apr - NLD says will consider taking part in elections if ruling junta agrees to release political prisoners, constitutional change and international observers
May - Suu Kyi charged with breaching conditions of her house arrest, following a visit by an uninvited U.S. national
U.N. and aid agencies say hundreds of thousands of cyclone survivors in the Irrawaddy Delta still need aid. U.N. says government now allows it to bring in all the staff it needs
Jun - Donors warn that Suu Kyi's trial may affect post-cyclone aid. Army launches new offensive against pro-independence Karen National Union. Thai army reports 3,000 Karen have fled to Thailand
Jul - U.N. secretary general barred from seeing Suu Kyi while on a visit to Myanmar. He urges junta to announce date for elections, engage in national dialogue, allow re-registration of all political parties and release political prisoners including Suu Kyi
Aug - Court convicts Suu Kyi of breaching the conditions of her house arrest, and extends her house arrest by further 18 months. EU says will toughen sanctions, France and UK call for global arms and economic embargoes
Over 10,000 displaced by army attacks on ethnic Shan in northeast, reports Human Rights Watch. Over 30,000 cross border to China fleeing fighting between government forces and Kokang rebels
Nov - U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell meets Suu Kyi and Prime Minister General Thein Sein, and urges junta to work with democratic opposition
Dec - U.N. reports ethnic groups have increased opium production to buy weapons
Jan - Government troops attack ethnic Karen villagers in the east, forcing 2,000 to flee, reports humanitarian group Free Burma Rangers
Feb - U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana is denied access to Suu Kyi. Says human rights situation is serious
Mar - New laws annul NLD's 1990 election win, bar political prisoners from belonging to political parties. NLD votes to boycott elections planned for late 2010
Apr - Prime Minister Gen. Thein Sein resigns from army to contest election as a civilian
May - NLD officially disbanded. Several cabinet ministers resign from military in preparation for elections. Sein launches campaign after registering new Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP)
Jun - Karen National Liberation Army says it has killed at least 12 government soldiers in Karen state
Jul - Government gives permission for splinter group from NLD to form National Democratic Front party
Aug - United Wa State Army, largest armed ethnic group, says it will ban election activities in areas under its control in northeast
Nov - National elections won by USDP. Vote condemned by pro-democracy parties and United States. Suu Kyi released from house arrest
Mar – A 6.8-magnitude earthquake shakes Myanmar, Thailand and Laos
Military junta makes way for new civilian government and Thein Sein sworn in as president
Jun – Thousands flee renewed fighting between government troops and ethnic Kachin separatists after peace talks fail
Jul – Human Rights Watch says the military is forcing convicted criminals to serve as porters and human shields during armed conflicts
Dec - Government signs peace deal with Shan rebels and orders military to stop operations against ethnic Kachin rebels
Jan - Government signs peace deal with Karen rebels
Apr - NLD candidates sweep the board in parliamentary by-elections, and Aung San Suu Kyi is elected to parliament. EU suspends non-military sanctions
Jun - Tens of thousands of people are displaced by clashes between Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in Rakhine state
Oct - Violence flares again in Rakhine state