Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a multi-ethnic nation (135 distinct ethnic groups) in south-east Asia which borders Thailand, Laos, PR China, India, Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal. The country, which has been ruled by a military-led government since 1962, has a total area of 678,500km2 and a population of approximately 48 million people. Although the biggest city is Yangon (with 4.5 million inhabitants), Naypyidaw (“Home of the Kings”) has been the capita! since 2006.
During the Second World War, Japan occupied Burma and created a puppet state. After the war, Burma was claimed by the British and brought back into their colonial empire. Burma gained independence in 1948, and since then, there have been various armed conflicts all over the country as ethnic minorities battle for more autonomy or even independence. Ever since 1962 and the end of a brief period of democracy, the nation has been under the control of various military regimes. On 3 May 2008, Cyclone Nargis devastated large parts of the country. According to government figures, 84,537 people lost their lives and a further 53,836 are still reported missing. UN estimates, however, place the number of fatalities at between 63,000 and 101,000 with a further million left homeless. There were stories of the military junta denying aid workers access to the Ayeyarwady delta region and confiscating aid packages sent from abroad.
Human rights organisations have accused the government and army of a number of human rights violations such as forced labour, forced evictions from villages, torture, mass rape and the deployment of child soldiers in the ongoing fight against rebels, particularly against ethnic minorities such as the Karen.