Myanmar's Profile

Country profile of Burma or Myanmar as it is also known

A largely rural, densely forested country, Burma (or Myanmar, as it is also known) is festooned with the symbols of Buddhism. Manifested most vividly in thousands of pagodas which throng its ancient towns, these have been a focus for an increasingly important tourism industry. But while tourism has been a magnet for foreign investment, its benefits have hardly touched the people.

Burma or Myanmar

Burma is ruled by a military junta. The opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, has had various restrictions placed on her activities for more than ten years.

The military government has been accused of gross human rights abuses, including the forcible relocation of civilians and the widespread use of forced labour, which includes children.

Military-run enterprises control key industries, and corruption and severe mismanagement are the hallmarks of a black-market-riven economy.

The armed forces - and former rebels co-opted by the government - have been accused of large-scale trafficking in heroin, of which Burma is a major exporter. Prostitution and Aids are major problems.

The largest group is the Burman people, who are ethnically related to the Tibetans and the Chinese. Burman dominance over Karen, Shan, Rakhine, Mon, Chin, Kachin and other minorities has been the source of considerable ethnic tension, fuelling intermittent separatist rebellions.

Burma is the world's largest exporter of teak and is a principal source of jade, pearls, rubies and sapphires. It is endowed with extremely fertile soil and has important offshore oil and gas deposits. However, its people remain very poor and are getting poorer.

The Devil of Burma

Born in 1933, Senior General Than Shwe became head of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) in 1992. The SLORC reconstituted itself as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997.

A specialist in psychological warfare, Than has steadfastly ruled out a transfer of power to Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. The NLD won a landslide election victory in 1990 - Burma's first multi-party elections for 30 years.

However, in an effort to improve Burma's international image, he has authorised the release of a number of political prisoners.

Facts of Burma

Population: 41.7 million
Capital: Rangoon (Yangon)
Major languages: Burmese, indigenous ethnic languages
Major religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam
Life expectancy: 54 years (men), 56 years (women)
Monetary unit: 1 kyat = 100 pyas
Main exports: Teak, pulses and beans, prawns, fish, rice, opiates
Internet domain: .mm
International dialling code: +95

Yangon City FM 89 MHz..