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Burma's path toward reform 'not smooth': analyst
Jim Middleton speaks to journalist and Burma observer Pravit Rojanaphruk about the disparities between Burma's growing media freedom and its treatment of ethnic minorities.

Burma has made some mighty changes on the road to a more open society in the last two years.

And last week the authorities ended restrictions requiring journalists to have their work censored before publication.

For all that, the behaviour of the military is still attracting the attention of human rights organisations over their treatment of ethnic minorities.

Pravit Rojanaphruk is a close observer of events in Burma.

He writes for The Nation newspaper in Bangkok.
JIM MIDDLETON: Pravit Rojanaphruk, welcome to the program.


JIM MIDDLETON: I'm wondering how does all this work, on the one hand there is growing media freedom in Burma but the Army is being accused of human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in the country. What are we actually seeing, how do these contradictions fit together?

PRAVIT ROJANAPHRUK: Well it's hard to patch up the two disparities. But I think there is increased confidence within the governments in Burma of Myanmar that they could grant more freedom of the press to the media.

But again, as you mentioned, the issues of ethnic minorities and how the central government in Naypyidaw would be dealing with. It is a big issue and there's many groups and I think it will take a very long time to sort it out, as we have seen the most recent issue amongst the Rohingyas people in Burma.

So I think it's a reminder that the path for reform in Burma is not going to be smooth because they have deal with many issues. It's not a country where there is no ethnic conflicts, and there's more than one ethnic conflicts as we speak.

JIM MIDDLETON: Just how significant is this announcement on relaxation of censorship? As I understand it, journalists will no longer to have to submit their articles for censorship but they could still be at risk of prosecution or of punishment for what they have written?

PRAVIT ROJANAPHRUK: I think it's best to allow time and see how far the media in Burma would be willing to scrutinise and criticise those in power. And that is not just about the government but also the military which still remains a force to be reckoned with. And see whether there will be a negative repercussions, whether there will be a crack down or arrest of some of the journalists or not.

Although it's clear now that the government in Burma will no longer require the print media to submit their articles for the approval in advance. My understanding is that they are still required to submit the post-printed versions of their newspapers to the censor board or to the authorities. And I think based on that they will be reviewed.

JIM MIDDLETON: Freedom from censorship is one of the necessary conditions for democracy to flourish, but from what you're saying you don't think that by any means the changes that have occurred in the last two years, since November 2010, you don't think that those changes are necessarily irreversible?

PRAVIT ROJANAPHRUK: Well it is still reversible. We look at the constitution, which gave unproportionate at power to the military. We look at the fragile peace between the central governments and varieties ethnic groups, and a number of them are still armed and willing to fight for either proper consideration or an outright independence. I think it will be too early to really come into such conclusion.

And on top of that, we have the geopolitics between India, the United States and China as well as ASEANs (Association of South East Asian Nations). So Burma is in a very special time, and I think that too many factors have plagued to be able to make very simple and clear conclusions about how the country is heading.

JIM MIDDLETON: To what extent is it possible that this is an admission of the inevitable by the Burmese authorities? To what extent, for example, have people in Burma been able to get hold of uncensored information anyway by alternative means, and so this is just effectively allowing what's already there anyway?

PRAVIT ROJANAPHRUK: Well I think increasingly the internet will play a major role in Burma as it has in many countries in the region. But on the other hand, the relaxing of censorship in Burma will allow the voices of the public to be more clearly heard.

I think in the long term there would be no stopping. And I think that the generals and those in power are well aware that isolation really is not the answer in the long term. But you also see a softening of stands on the part of Aung San Suu Kyi ,who talked more about national reconciliation and the need to step out of one's position. So I think we are seeing more reconciliation attempt by Aung San Suu Kyi and I think in a way that is a good thing. Though of course Aung San Suu Kyi has also been criticised for not coming out strong enough on the issues of the Rohingya people who are being displaced.

JIM MIDDLETON: On that question of the Rohingyas and also the conflict that is still going on in Kachin for example, is it possible - we started off discussing the difference between this relaxation of censorship and the human rights abuses on the other hand - is it possible that the military don't see censorship as important to their future as what they're doing in Kachin and maybe what's going on in Arakan as well with the Rohingya and therefore they are not as prepared to give a way on that as they are on freedom of speech?

PRAVIT ROJANAPHRUK: Well from what I heard there's some concerns about the attitudes of ordinary Burmese or Burman people. The people of Burma of Burman ethnicity who may not be as acutely concerned or disturbed by what is happening in Rohingyas, in Arakan or with the conflict with the Kachin people. So I think we will be needing more international support or pressure to help cajole the government of Burma to be more responsible and respect human rights in the dealing with the ethnic minorities.

As I said, I think Burma is not facing just a struggle for democracy but the struggle for equal respect and treatment of people of other ethnicities who are minorities, and there are so many groups in that country.

JIM MIDDLETON: Pravit Rojanaphruk, thank you very much for your time.

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