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Previously known as Burma, and officially known as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, the sovereign state is in Southeast Asia. With a long western coastline on the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal, Myanmar is bordered by Bangladesh, China, India, Laos, Thailand, and Tibet.

There are several islands off the coast of Myanmar, particularly in its southern Tanintharyi region, including the large Mergui archipelago and the Moscos Islands. There are also several islands and peninsulas along Myanmar's ragged northern coast, in Myanmar's Rakhine State, the largest of which are Cheduba and Myingun Island.

A number of ethnicities have been dominant in the region before the colonial era. Of the four major precolonial ethnic groups, the first was the Pyu, who came around the 1st century BC and established a kingdom in central Myanmar. Most of the area's Pyu population were enslaved or forced to move by 10th century invaders from China.

The Arakanese began to settle in the area now known as the Rakhine State in Myanmar, establishing a kingdom was in place by the 6th century BC. The Arakanese controlled an independent kingdom known as Arakan until after Burma became independent from British rule, and there are still groups seeking independence from Myanmar.

The Bamar came from eastern Himalaya in the 8th or 9th century, supplanting the remaining Pyu and establishing a kingdom in central Myanmar. Today, the Bamar are the dominant ethnic group.

The fourth major precolonial group were the Mon, who are believed to have come from eastern India to settle the lowlands along the Ayeyarwady River Delta across Thailand and into Cambodia sometime around the 9th century.

Several other ethnic groups lived in the area's remote hills, mostly untouched.

Prior to domination by the British, there were three major Burmese empires. The First Burmese Empire lasted from 1044 to 1287, when the Mongols invaded. The Burmese king had executed the envoys sent by Kublai Khan, prompting the Mongol invasion and subsequent suicide of the Burmese king. Taking advantage of the resulting chaos, Shan tribes grabbed a portion of the low country, and the Mon established their own kingdom.

A couple of centuries went by before a Second Burmese Empire could be established. It began with a small group of Bamar refugees in central Taungoo, surviving in an area between the Mon and the Shan, largely by playing these forces against one another. In the 16th century, they extended their area north, and then south, taking the Mon kingdom. By 1550, they had reunified all of Burma and defeated the neighboring Siamese. After the death of their king in 1581, their power rapidly declined, and the kingdom fell to the British, who were interested in fresh markets and supply sources in Southeast Asia.

The Third Burmese Empire came about in 1752 by defeating the Mon. Before long, they had expanded into Thailand and brought the Rakhine under Burmese control.

The British weren't through with Burma, however. In what became known as the First, Second, and Third Anglo-Burmese Wars, the British eventually took all of Burma in 1824, 1853, and 1885. Resentment over British control was strong, much of it due to disrespect from the British toward Burmese culture and traditions. Even before World War II, independence movements were formed.

During World War II, many Burmese fought for the Japanese, while others served in the British Burma Army. The Burma National Army and the Arakan National Army fought with the Japanese until 1944, then switched allegiance. Following World War II, the Union of Burma was formed as an independent state.

A military coup took place in 1962, and the government has been under military control since. In 1989, the country's name was changed from the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma to the Union of Myanmar. In 1990, free elections were held for the first time in thirty years, but the military refused to cede power. General elections were held in 2015, and Myanmar got its first non-military president since 1962. Currently, Myanmar is a constitutional republic.

Most of the Myanmar population adheres to Buddhism, and its Christian and Muslim communities face religious persecution. It is difficult for anyone but a Buddhist to be accepted into the military or to get a government job. The largest minority religion is Christianity, which claims just over 6% of the population, followed by Islam with just over 4%.

Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia. Under British control, it was the second richest country in Southeast Asia, but its wealth was in the hands of Europeans. During World War II, the region was bombed by both sides, and Britain destroyed much of its infrastructure to prevent it from falling to the Japanese. Civil wars and unrest have prevented the country from rebuilding.



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