YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar's president announced a major Cabinet reshuffle on Monday, a move analysts see as advancing the once-pariah nation's reformist agenda.
The shake-up is the biggest since President Thein Sein's government took office from the former military junta in March 2011 and launched a wave of dramatic reforms that have surprised the world and prompted Western powers to ease crippling sanctions.
Rumors have swirled for months about a possible reshuffle.
The announcement made late Monday on the president's official website said the overhaul affects nine of several dozen Cabinet posts. Some 15 new deputy ministers are also being appointed.
Among the most prominent changes is the replacement of former Information Minister Kyaw Hsan, widely seen as a hard-liner. He was replaced by Labor and Social Welfare Minister Aung Kyi, who has also acted as a liaison between the government and pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The information ministry oversees local and foreign media and the film industry, and has supervised the approval of visas for foreign correspondents. Kyaw Hsan was kept in government, however, and appointed to head the Cooperatives Ministry.
The presidential statement did not name all of the new ministers, but said several outgoing ministers — most considered reformists — would be moved to four new ministerial-level posts in the president's office. They include the ministers of finance, national planning and economic development, and Railways Minister Aung Min, who has played a key role in negotiating cease-fires with ethnic rebel groups.
Thant Myint-U, a historian from Myanmar and grandson of the late U.N. Secretary-General U Thant, said in a tweet that the reshuffle is "unquestionably a strengthening of President U Thein Sein's reformist agenda, with top academics, technocrats brought into (the) Cabinet." ''U" is an honorific in Myanmar.
Thein Sein has said in recent comments that he would leave behind anyone who is against reform.
Earlier this month, military representatives in parliament appointed the country's politically moderate naval chief as one of the nation's two vice presidents. Vice Admiral Nyan Tun replaced a known hard-liner, Tin Aung Myint Oo, who resigned citing health reasons.
Over the last year, Thein Sein's government has spearheaded unprecedented change in Myanmar, relaxing decades of harsh rule and allowing freedoms previously unheard of in the Southeast Asian nation. Media censorship has eased dramatically, the government has signed cease-fire deals with multiple armed insurgent groups, and crucial investment laws are being rewritten.
But major challenges remain. Rights groups say the rule of law is weak, corruption is strong, and fighting continues in the north between ethnic Kachin rebels and government forces.
Associated Press writers Aye Aye Win in Yangon and Todd Pitman in Bangkok contributed to this report.