(TIME photoessays) Living under the thumb of a brutal junta, the average Burmese hardly leads an easy life. But the plight of the country's ethnic minorities, many of whom once waged long and bloody insurgencies against the military regime, is even worse. As a new human-rights report released on Jan. 28, as well as the recent stories of destitute refugees who fled Burma attest to, members of Burma's ethnic groups face persistent discrimination by the military regime.
* Burma: 19 years of Protest
* Burma: Aftermath
* Burma: Discontent
They are the targets of unpaid forced labor campaigns, scorched-earth policies that destroy farmland, and relocation programs that require entire villages to move at a moment's notice.
Perhaps the most exploited minority in Burma, the Rohingya are a Muslim group. (Visiting the Rohingya, Burma's hidden population)
Clustered in the northeastern hills of Burma, the Buddhist Shan were accorded a measure of self-rule by British colonialists, thought in total to number at least 5 million.
Overwhelmingly Christian (Baptist converts), the Chin live in the impoverished mountains near the India-Burma border and have an armed wing, the Chin National Front. (Pictures: Junta blocking Burma from receiving aid after a cyclone)
The second-largest ethnic group after the Burmans, comprised of both Christians and Buddhists, the Karen have also waged a long rebellion against the Burmese junta.
Mostly Christian, the Kachin live in northern Burma and were famous during colonial times for their battle skills.
Called "Myanmar" [which is simply a more correct pronunciation of Bamar] by its military leaders, Burma derives its name from the Buddhist Burman (or Bamar) people. The country's largest ethnic group, the Burman historically lived in Burma's central and upper plains. But this patchwork country of 55 million is made up of more than 100 unique ethnicities.
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The isolation enforced by Burma's numerous mountains and hills helped nurture these culturally discrete groups, making it one of the most diverse countries in Southeast Asia, despite its relatively small geographic size. Here are five ethnicities, some of who have unsuccessfully waged long insurgencies against the central government and others who have made news recently because of the abuses they have suffered at the hands of the Burman-dominated regime.
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