Head of government General Thein Sein
Death penalty abolitionist in practice
Population 50 million
Life expectancy 61.2 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f) 120/102 per 1,000
Adult literacy 89.9 per cent
Almost 2,200 political prisoners remained behind bars. Most were held in abysmal conditions and many suffered from poor physical and psychological health. The authorities arrested Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the main opposition party, and sentenced her to 18 months' further house arrest. Fighting intensified between the army and an aligned ethnic minority Karen armed group, and armed opposition group the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). This was accompanied by serious human rights violations and led to thousands seeking refuge in neighbouring Thailand. The authorities continued to target ethnic minority activists involved in various forms of resistance to government policies, practices, and projects.
In August, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was permitted to meet a US Senator, and in October met with her government liaison officer for the first time since January 2008. In November, she met a high-level mission from the US.
In April, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC, the military government) proposed that the ethnic minority armed groups that had agreed ceasefires with the government become border guard forces under SPDC command. This was in preparation for national elections in 2010 – the first since 1990 – but negotiations and fighting with such armed groups followed throughout the year. By the end of the year only nine groups agreed to the proposal, most citing a feared loss of territory or control as reasons for their refusal.
Relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction in the wake of the 2008 Cyclone Nargis continued, while serious food shortages struck Chin and Rakhine States. Myanmar began building a fence on the border with Bangladesh, which increased tensions between the two countries. The international community raised concerns that the Myanmar government may be seeking nuclear capability.
Although in February and September the government released more than 13,000 prisoners, there were only 158 known political prisoners among them, including five prisoners of conscience, Ma Khin Khin Leh, U Saw Naing Naing, U Soe Han, Ko Aung Tun, and Khaing Kaung San. These individuals had all been imprisoned for approximately 10 years. At least 50 people were arrested between the September releases and the end of the year and almost 2,200 political prisoners remained.