Myanmar president announces major Cabinet changes

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 nine out of 33 Cabinet posts are being swapped out, including the portfolios of finance, information, industry, and national planning and economic development. It also said 15 new deputy ministers have been 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.

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.

The president's statement did not name all of the new ministers, but it said several outgoing ministers were moved to four new ministerial posts.

Thein Sein has said in recent comments that he would leave behind anyone who is against reform.

Over the last year, his 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.