Updated at 4:15 p.m. EST on 2012-08-27
Burma's President Thein Sein has made his biggest cabinet reshuffle since taking power in March last year, including dropping his hardline Information Minister, in a move that analysts say will strengthen the government's reform agenda.
The revamp announced Monday on the president's official website saw changes to nine of 33 cabinet posts, including the key finance, information, industry, and national planning and economic development portfolios, Zaw Htay, director in the president's office, told RFA's Burmese service.
Thein Sein roped four of his key ministers into the president's office to coordinate more closely on reforms, and appointed 15 new deputy ministers.
Thein Sein replaced Information Minister Kyaw Hsan, seen as a stumbling block to media reforms, with Labor and Social Welfare Minister Aung Kyi, the president's point-man in talks with pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The change in the information ministry came a week after Thein Sein's administration announced the lifting—after 50 years—of direct censorship of print media, removing requirements that journalists submit articles on religion or politics for government review before publication.
As it made the move, following protests by journalists, the government admitted last week that previous censorship and removal of news items because of political concerns may have been unnecessary.
Private daily newspapers however remain banned, and regulations against publishing information “harmful to state security” remain in place.
Thein Sein on Monday also appointed Railway Minister Aung Min, who has played a leading role in ceasefire talks with ethnic rebels, as well as Finance Minister Hla Tun, Industry Minister Soe Thein and Minister of National Planning and Economic Development Tin Naing Thein, key figures in economic reforms, as ministers in the president's office.
"They will work for the president. So the president will only need to make final decisions and he will have more time to work on the important matters," the Agence France-Presse news agency quoted a senior government official as saying.
The official, who did not want to be named, added that their replacements would be announced later.
Kyaw Hsan, who had held the information post for the last decade, including during the brutal military junta rule that preceded Thein Sein's nominally civilian government, was appointed to head the low-key Cooperatives Ministry.
Tint Hsan, another minister close to the previous military junta, will see his role diminished under the reshuffle. He will now be in charge of only the sports portfolio while his other duties as minister of Hotels and Tourism will be take over by someone else.
Aye Myint will be moved from Minister of Science and Technology to Minister of Industry, while Ohn Myint will remain Minister of Livestock and Fisheries, giving up his cooperatives portfolio.
Thant Myint, a historian and grandson of the late Burmese U.N. Secretary-General U Thant, said on Twitter that the cabinet changes were pro-reform.
The reshuffle is "unquestionably a strengthening of President U [honorific] Thein Sein's reformist agenda, with top academics, technocrats brought into [the] Cabinet," he said in a tweet.
The cabinet changes follow the appointment earlier this month of a navy chief, who has a reputation as a political moderate, to be one of the country’s two vice presidents, replacing a hardliner who resigned for health reasons.
Admiral Nyan Tun, 58, took over from Tin Aung Myint Oo, considered a conservative hardliner.
Nyan Tun was selected by military members of parliament, who make up a quarter of the legislature and have the right to choose a vice president.
Reported by RFA's Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.
CORRECTION: An earlier version stated that Zaw Htay is the director-general in the president's office. It has been corrected to director.