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Myanmar: A country divided

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma and located in the western part of Southeast Asia, is home to 48.7 million people. Buddhism is the majority religion in Myanmar and the 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims who live there are subject to extreme forms of persecution and discrimination.

The early history of Myanmar

In 1057, King Anawrahta founded the first unified Myanmar state and adopted a strand of Buddhism known as Theravada Buddhism. After a Mongol invasion in 1287, Pagan was conquered and the country remained divided until 1531, when the country was reunited as Burma by the Toungoo dynasty, with help from the Portuguese.

Between 1824 and 1852, two wars were fought between Britain and Burma, resulting in the annexing of lower Burma by British forces. In the next four years, Burma became a province of British Indian and in 1937 was separated from India as a crown colony. In 1942, Burma was invaded by Japan and subsequently liberated by Britain, with help from the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL).

A one-party state

Independence was finally achieved for Burma in 1948, with U Nu as Prime Minister. However, 1962 saw U Nu’s government ousted by a faction led by Gen Ne Win. Ne Win abolished Burma’s federal system and introduced a form a socialism, nationalising the economy and creating a single party state. The Socialist Programme Party was the sole permitted political organisation and independent media was swiftly banned.

In 1987, currency devaulation resulted in the decimation of many people’s savings, triggering anti-government riots that were met with military violence. Thousands of people were killed and thousands more were arrested. Martial law was declared in Burma and the country renamed ‘Myanmar’. Despite a landslide general election victory for the opposition party National League for Democracy (NLD) in 1990, the result was not recognised by the military.

The military regime ends

After years of repressive military junta, power struggles and public dissent, control of Myanmar was handed over to a nominally civilian government in 2011 and new labour laws allowing unions were passed. The NLD re-registered as a political party and entered the political area once more to sweep impressive wins in the 2012 election.

The EU suspended non-military sanctions against Myanmar for a year and the country abolished pre-publication censorship of print media. A commission was created by President Thein Sein to investigate the violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the west of Myanmar, in which dozens of people were killed.

Tensions rise between community factions

In November 2012, more than 90 people were killed in a renewed bout of community violence between Buddhists and Rohhingya Muslims in Rakhine State. A few months later, the army clashed with Kachin rebels in Laiza and rioting between Muslims and Buddhists left another 10 people dead.

More violence occurred between Kokang separatists in Shan State, leading to the deaths of 50 Burmese soldiers. After street protests, the Burmese government withdrew temporary voting rights from Rohingya Muslims.

A chance for peace

In March 2015, a draft ceasefire agreement was signed between 16 rebel groups and the Myanmar government. July and August saw serious floods devastate low-lying parts of the country, killing 100 people and displacing almost a million more.

The historic November election culminated in the NLD, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, winning enough seats to form a government. Htin Kyaw was sworn in as President, signalling the start of a new era of democracy after 50 years of military domination.

The situation in Myanmar today

Despite encouraging steps towards becoming a functioning democracy, the Rohingya Muslims continue to be persecuted and discriminated againt due to being part of a minority religion. They are denied Burmese citizenship and considered a ‘stateless’ people, despite having roots in Myanmar stretching back to the Eight Century.

Rohingya Muslims are denied freedom of movement, state education, voting rights and the ability to undertake different kinds of work. In the last two weeks, an escalation in violence has occurred and villages have been burned to the ground, with 400 people reported dead and activists suggesting that the actual death toll could be around 1,000 people.

More than 120,000 people have fled to the border of Bangladesh with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, and 400,000 people remain trapped in conflict zones in western Myanmar. The shocking violence has seen men, women and children murdered with impunity. The UN has declared that a state of humanitarian crisis looms unless a coordinated aid response reaches those in need immediately.

The Rohingya Muslims need your help

With your generous support, Human Appeal can provide much-needed humanitarian assistance to the displaced families sheltering in overcrowded camps on the Bangladeshi border. These people have barely escaped with their lives.

For just £65, you can feed a hungry family for a whole month. For £100, you can provide an emergency parcel, containing food, clean water and basic medical supplies. This could mean the difference between life and death for vulnerable people who have lost everything.

You can save a precious life today.

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