Also known as Burma by Digopaul,
Myanmar is a country located in Asia. During the year, political reforms continued
towards increased democratization of Burma that began in
2010. But while the outside world and the country's own
opposition welcomed the political thaw, it was also stressed
that much remained to be done before Burma could be
considered a democratic country. The driving force for
increased openness was first and foremost among the
country's rulers, President Thein Sein and within the
opposition were former NLD leader and Nobel Peace Prize
laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
The need to resolve the serious conflicts that existed
between the regime and several of the country's ethnic
minorities was raised in connection with the reform work.
Cease-fire agreements were concluded in several places, but
in the Rakhine province, also called Arakan, in the west,
ethnically-related violence between Buddhists and Muslims
erupted, particularly the vulnerable Muslim group Rohingya,
with nearly a few hundred dead as a result and a large
refugee stream, also over to neighboring Bangladesh.
During the first month of the year, the government issued
two major amnesties for prisoners. The first took place on
Independence Day, January 3. At that time around a thousand
prisoners were released, but only an estimated maximum of
thirty were to be considered political prisoners. The
president also converted the death penalty to prison and
shortened the prison sentence for more than 20 years.
However, in the second amnesty ten days later, significantly
more political prisoners were released. Human rights
organizations estimated the number to be between 130 and 288
out of a total of about 650 released. Among the released
were several well-known dissimilar journalists, bloggers,
leaders of ethnic minorities and human rights activists and
others. Among others, Min Ko Naing, leader of the 1988
student uprising against the then military regime, was
released, and Buddhist monk Ashin Gambira, one of the
leaders of the 2007 rebellion,
After the second amnesty, US President Barack Obama
announced that the United States would establish full
diplomatic relations with Burma and that ambassadors should
be installed in the two countries.
Burma's opening to the outside world continued when
British Foreign Minister William Hague visited the country
in January. The last time a British Foreign Minister visited
Burma was in 1955. Hague praised recent developments but
also said that much remained before Burma and Britain could
fully normalize relations, including all political prisoners
must be released, the upcoming parliamentary election
elections must be free and fair and human rights groups must
gain access to the areas where ethnic conflicts are ongoing.
The EU decided to lift some of the sanctions against
Burma, among other things a number of civilian Burmese
ministers could again get visas to EU countries. Norway and
Australia also announced that some sanctions against Burma's
leadership would be eased.
A great deal of attention was given to the election
elections to Parliament and local assemblies to be held on
April 1. The elections were seen as a test of the
government's willingness to reform when NLD leader Aung San
Suu Kyi chose to run for office in a constituency in
On January 12, the government announced that a cease-fire
agreement had been concluded with the Karengerillan KNU,
which has been fighting the regime for increased autonomy or
independence since 1948. While the KNU's management
described the agreement as an important step toward peace,
parts of the guerrillas doubted that the agreement was not
meant an immediate retreat by the government soldiers from
the Karen People's area of northern Burma. According to
President Thein Sein, six out of eleven ethnic groups had
now concluded similar ceasefire agreements with his
government. Among the groups that did not agree to the
settlement were the Kachin People's Independence
Organization KIO and the Mon People's Movement NMSP. A
seventh group joined the ceasefire in March.
The hopes that the important election elections on April
1 would be free and fair were reinforced when President
Thein Sein in March invited election observers from, for
example, the United States, the EU and Southeast Asian
countries within the ASEAN cooperation organization.
Critics, however, felt that the invitation had come way too
late and that election observers would be too few to
guarantee an international standard on the elections. The
filling elections that were intended to be held in Kachin
had to be postponed due to fighting between government
forces and the guerrilla group KIA. The fighting continued
despite the president calling for the army to withdraw,
indicating that the old General Thein Sein did not have full
control over the military at the local level.
Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed to speak in state-owned
media for the first time, but she said afterwards that a
statement about the lack of legal security had been cut. The
NLD leader had on several occasions also criticized the fact
that a quarter of the seats in Parliament are reserved for
the military and had demanded a constitutional change on
In March, the president signed a law that allowed the
formation of trade unions and opened up that strikes could
also be legal.
In March, the International Maritime Law Court ITLOS
granted Bangladesh the right to maritime areas in the Bay of
Bengal, which both Burma and Bangladesh had claimed. The
areas are rich in fish and are also believed to contain oil
and natural gas. The dispute had been going on since 2009.
The opposition NLD (National Democracy Association) won a
very big victory in April when they received 43 of the 45
seats to be elected in the election. The military-supported
government party USDP (Union Solidarity and Development
Party) got a seat and the Shan People's Party SNDP (Shann
Nationalities Alliance for Democracy) won a place. NLD also
won in the new capital Naypyidaw, where the vast majority of
residents are civil servants who could conceivably give
their support to the USDP. The government quickly accepted
the election result.
When the new MPs, including Aung San Suu Kyi, were to
take their seats at the end of the month, problems arose
when they could not accept the oath of allegiance to the
constitution which they considered undemocratic, partly
because of the military's reserved seats. They wanted to
change the oath from "protecting" the constitution to
"respecting" it. After a while, however, the new members
agreed to swear the oath as it was because they otherwise
risked immediately colliding with the hawks within the
government that the president had to deal with. Aung San Suu
Kyi said this was "the will of the people".
As the first European head of government since the
military junta's takeover of Burma in 1962, Britain's Prime
Minister David Cameron visited the country on April 12-13.
After talks with Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi, Cameron
gave his support to the NLD leader's line, namely to
temporarily suspend the sanctions against Burma but not
abolish them. One exception was the arms embargo that would
remain. In this way, Burma's pursuit of increased democracy
and strengthened human rights would be encouraged, while the
sanctioning tool could be quickly resumed if the Burmese
government deviated from the course.
Following the election, the United States decided to ease
a number of sanctions against Burma, such as entry bans for
government ministers. In May, the United States also lifted
some restrictions on US companies' terms of operation in
Burma. In April, the EU lifted all sanctions except the arms
embargo for a year, to then evaluate the situation. As the
first foreigner, UN chief Ban Ki Moon was allowed to speak
before Burma's parliament at the end of April/May.
In June, a prolonged period of widespread ethnic violence
between Buddhists and Muslims broke out in Rakhine Province
in northwestern Burma. The outbreak of violence was
triggered by a gang rape and murder of a Buddhist girl by
three Muslim men. In what looked like a revenge attack a few
days later, a bunch of Buddhists ripped ten Muslim men out
of a bus and killed them. The travelers were later reported
to have been pilgrims from another part of the country. The
three youngsters who carried out the group rape and murder
were jailed. Two were sentenced to death and one died in
A wave of violence, looting and arson spread across the
province, where Buddhists and, above all, Muslim Rohingya
stood against each other. President Thein Sein introduced a
state of emergency and additional military was called. The
president warned that the country's political and economic
reforms could be threatened by the wave of violence. On June
11, the UN reduced its presence in Rakhine to a minimum. At
least 78 people were killed and as many as 90,000 were
evicted from their homes according to the UN before the
violence could be stopped.
In mid-June, Aung San Suu Kyi made a notable trip to a
number of European countries - Switzerland, Norway, Ireland,
the United Kingdom and France. In Oslo, she finally got the
opportunity to keep her noble number, something she couldn't
when she got the award in 1991 because she was then placed
under house arrest. Her two sons at that time received the
Peace Prize in her place. In London, Aung San Suu Kyi was
the first non-head of state or government to speak to the
entire British Parliament when both the lower house and the
upper house gathered to listen to her.
In August, the government announced that all
pre-censorship of print media would be abolished, but that
the review of the publications would be ex post. In the same
month, President Thein Sein carried out a reform of
government to strengthen the reform-minded faction within
the government against the conservative and reform skeptic.
In October, fighting between Muslims and Buddhists caught
fire again in Rakhine. Another 90 people were killed and
more than 22,000 had to flee their homes. In total, over
100,000 people had now become homeless due to the ethnic
violence in the province.
Foreign political leaders continued to flock to Burma in
the autumn to express their support for the democratization
process and to explore the possibilities of trade with
Burma. Among the visitors in November were Swedish Prime
Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt and EU Commission President Jos谷
Manuel Barroso. The EU promised Burma over US $ 100 million
in development aid.
In November, Burma was visited by US President Barack
Obama. He offered the country friendship and cooperation in
exchange for more political and economic reforms. At the
same time, Obama called for reconciliation between Buddhists
and Rohingya in Rakhine. Before the visit, several hundred
interns were released from Burma's prisons. It was not known
if any of these were political prisoners.
In December, the government announced that privately
owned newspapers would be allowed again from April 1, 2013.
The last Burma had a privately owned newspaper was 1964.