Historically underdeveloped and divided, Burma today is politically isolated, increasingly militarised, economically mismanaged by its own authorities, and socially and culturally divided along ethnic, religious, and language lines. Following independence from Britain in 1948, parties representing the ethnic minority population have been struggling for greater autonomy from the central Burmese regime. Following nationwide pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) staged a coup to take over the governing of Burma, reinstating martial law and imposing restrictions on opposition to the government. Thousands of people were killed during this uprising. Elections held in 1990 whereby the National League for Democracy (NLD), headed by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, won a landslide victory have never been honoured.
The contemporary military regime does not allow access to the country for research purposes, and therefore research on displacement is largely carried out by interviewing people fleeing the country. However, consistent accounts of human rights violations are available over a number of years. Displacement in Burma results mostly from systematic patterns of human rights abuses associated with militarisation and conflict in ethnic minority areas. Human rights violations, carried out with impunity, include numerous acts of arbitrary executions, killings, torture, rape, forced labour, forced relocation, use of child soldiers, and violations of religious freedoms. These have been documented over the years and have increased in intensity since 1988. Muslims and Christians are often persecuted directly because of their minority status.
Recent development efforts to encourage tourism have led to forced labour and further displacement. It has been reported that the islands off the coast of Burma being developed for tourism have had their populations relocated under conditions of extreme brutality, including killings. There are refugees from Burma in Thailand, Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, and China. It is also thought that the Lao PDR has refugees from Burma, but nothing is known about this population.
Contemporary Burma is a highly mine-affected country and in 2002 was the world's largest producer of illicit opium...
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