Cumulatively, the junta's actions - in recent years coordinated from the remote, newly-created administrative capital city of Nay Pyi Taw - rendered Myanmar one of the world's most impoverished, isolated and secretive states.
Myanmar stretches from the Bay of Bengal and Irrawaddy delta in the south, where the former capital and largest city Yangon (Rangoon) is located, northwards through tribal regions to a horse-shoe of mountains separating the country from China and India.
In 2007, anti-government protests led by Buddhist monks on the streets of Yangon were quickly stamped out by the military. With the regime still in place, the plight of minority ethnic peoples in Myanmar - including the Karen - was a cause of huge consternation in the West, with many groups including Christians motivated to campaign on their behalf.
Adding to its burdens, Myanmar is also prone to natural disaster. In 2008, cyclone Nargis battered the sourthern Irrawaddy delta region, killing tens of thousands of people, and starkly exposing the regime's inability or unwillingness to respond to the needs of its citizens.
The 2010 elections were once again viewed as little more than a sham by the international community. Many of the seats were reserved for the military, and opposition parties were prevented from fielding candidates. Turnout was low as many of Burma's people boycotted the vote.
SIGNS OF CHANGE IN MYANMAR (BURMA)
However, a series of recent developments - including the coming to power of a more moderate president and, most visibly, the release from house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi and her subsequent victory in parliamentary by-elections in April 2012 - gave rise at last to hope of real change in this troubled country, and of a thawing in relations between Myanmar and the outside world.
Religion: Buddhism (approx. 85%). Christian, traditional ethnic & Muslim minorities.
Christians in Myanmar
Although a Buddhist country, Myanmar has many Christians, notably among the ethnic minorities in the provinces - such as the Chin people - who are repressed by the regime. In theory Myanmar guarantees religious freedom, but the regime is very wary of any growth in numbers of Christians within communities who would oppose them politically.
There is also a significant openness to the gospel among Buddhist monks who have a very important place in Myanmar society.
There are churches of many denominations in urban centres, notably Yangon (including a large Anglican cathedral in a city where many signs of former British rule remain). However, pastors and leaders are continually observed by the authorities, who frequently move in to close churches down.
A very important feature of the growth of the Church in Myanmar has been the training of indigenous leaders at Bible colleges within the country.