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Burma, colonized by Britain in the 19th century and granted independence post-World War II, contains ethnic Burman and scores of other ethnic and religious minority groups that have all resisted external efforts to consolidate control of the country throughout its history, extending to the several minority groups today that possess independent fighting forces and control pockets of territory. In 1962, Gen. NE WIN seized power and ruled Burma until 1988 when a new military regime took control. In 1990, the junta permitted an election but then rejected the results when the main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) and its leader AUNG SAN SUU KYI (ASSK) won in a landslide. The junta placed ASSK under house arrest for much of the next 20 years, until November 2010. In 2007, rising fuel prices in Burma led pro-democracy activists and Buddhist monks to launch a “Saffron Revolution” consisting of large protests against the ruling junta, which violently suppressed the movement by killing an unknown number of participants and arresting thousands. The regime prevented new elections until it had drafted a constitution designed to preserve its control; it passed the new constitution in its 2008 referendum, days after Cyclone Nargis killed at least 138,000. The junta conducted an election in 2010, but the NLD boycotted the vote, and the military’s Union Solidarity and Development Party easily won; international observers denounced the election as flawed.

With former or current military officers installed in its most senior positions, Burma began a halting process of political and economic reforms. Officials freed prisoners, brokered ceasefires with ethnic armed groups (EAGs), amended courts, expanded civil liberties, brought ASSK into government in 2012, and permitted the NLD in 2015 to take power after a sweeping electoral win. However, Burma’s first credibly elected civilian government, with ASSK as the de facto head of state, faced strong headwinds after five decades of military dictatorship. The NLD government drew international criticism for blocking investigations of Burma’s military for operations, which the US Department of State determined constituted genocide, on its Rohingya population that killed thousands and forced more than 770,000 Rohingya to flee into neighboring Bangladesh. The military did not support an NLD pledge in 2019 to examine reforming the military’s 2008 constitution. When the 2020 elections resulted in further NLD gains, the military denounced them as fraudulent. This challenge led Commander-in-Chief Sr. General MIN AUNG HLAING to launch a coup in February 2021 that has left Burma reeling with the return to authoritarian rule, the detention of ASSK and thousands of pro-democracy actors, and renewed brutal repression against protestors, widespread violence, and economic decline.Since the coup and subsequent crackdown, members of parliament elected in November 2020 and ousted by the military have formed a shadow National Unity Government (NUG). Members of the NUG include representatives from the NLD, ethnic minority groups, civil society, and other minor parties. In May 2021, the NUG announced the formation of a notional army called the called the People’s Defense Force (PDF), and in September announced the start of an insurgency against the military junta after the formation of hundreds of local armed groups. As of 2023, PDF groups across the country continue to fight the military regime with varying levels of support from and cooperation with the NUG and antiregime EAGs.