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Profiling change in Burma: The secret booklender

Instead of punishment, one enterprising librarian received a rare green light from the government.
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Ye Htet Oo (Julie Turkewitz/GlobalPost)

YANGON, Myanmar — In June 2010, Ye Htet Oo was reading in his clandestine library on 28th Street in Yangon when his cell phone rang. On the other line was the head of the township's Ministry of Information, asking him to come in and chat about his library "issue." 

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Buddhist monk Wirathu leads violent national campaign against Myanmar's Muslims

The national '969' campaign threatens to block Burma's path to ethnic unity at a pivotal time. GlobalPost sits down with the campaign's leader in a rare interview.
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Ashin Wirathu, leader of the “969” movement, explains the ideology of the movement in Masoeyein Taik Thit Monastery in Mandalay, Myanmar in June 2013. (Htoo Tay Zar/GlobalPost)
MANDALAY, Myanmar — The national '969' campaign threatens to block Burma's path to ethnic unity at a pivotal time. GlobalPost sits down for a rare interview with the campaign's leader, whose anti-Muslim rhetoric has placed him at the center of rising ethnic and sectarian violence.
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Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims wait in refugee camps as Buddhist leaders dismiss genocide

On World Refugee Day, anti-Muslim prejudice is part of a 'new nationalism' in Myanmar that goes by the numerals 9-6-9.
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Rohingya families crowd a tented internally displaced persons (IDP) camp November 25, 2012 on the outskirts of Sittwe, Myanmar. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

YANGON, Myanmar — As an estimated 140,000 Rohingya Muslims sat captive in squalid refugee camps in Rakhine State and across the border in Thailand and Bangladesh, a group of red-robed Buddhist leaders gathered here in Yangon last week, dismissing what human rights groups have called a genocide as “illusions created by the Arab media.”

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Celebrated Burmese author explains Myanmar's 'watershed moment'

Thant Myint-U, intimately familiar with the country's past, reminds the media that sweeping reforms here have their own history.

YANGON, Myanmar — At the Savoy Hotel in Yangon, Burmese writer and scholar Thant Myint-U told a group of journalists that, “It’s probably not incorrect to say that we are at the most important historical watershed for this country at least since 1962, perhaps since independence in 1948.”

At a conference hosted by GlobalPost and Open Hands Initiative, he noted that the nation would have to make difficult choices, and would have to undergo much more change in order to successfully acclimate to the 21st century.

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Profiling change in Burma: Sao Yawd Murng, rebel fighter

The Shan State Army soldier visited Yangon for a historic meeting with President Thein Sein and the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
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Shan State Army soldier Sao Yawd Murng speaks as part of a delegation that came to Yangon, Myanmar to meet with President Thein Sein and the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi about preserving a 2012 ceasefire agreement in June 2013. (Sao Yawd Murng/Courtesy)

YANGON, Myanmar – The man speaking on his iPhone with the slick black suit and the shiny brown shoes could easily be mistaken for just another young entrepreneur eating breakfast at the Hotel Yangon.

But Sao Yawd Murng is a rebel fighter, not a capitalist. The language he is speaking on the phone is his native Shan and most days he is not in a suit but the deep-green military uniform of the Shan State Army emblazoned with the red, green and yellow of the Shan national flag.

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Blacklisted journalist Bertil Lintner returns to Burma after nearly 30 years

Long a fierce critic of the authoritarian military government, Lintner believes only Aung San Suu Kyi can unite the country.
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Bertil Lintner, expert on Burmese issues, in Yangon, Myanmar on June 15, 2013. He was blacklisted by Myanmar authorities in 1985. (Htoo Tay Zar/GlobalPost)

YANGON, Myanmar — Journalist Bertil Lintner's presence in Burma this month, the first time he has been in the country with an official visa in nearly 30 years, is just one sign of change here.

Lintner was blacklisted by the military government in 1985, but on Saturday he launched a Burmese-language printing of his book "Outrage: Burma's Struggle for Democracy", first published in 1995 but banned here just as Lintner was.

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In Bagan, a new look at Burma's ancient capital

Bagan represents centuries of culture — and a modern push to modernize and open further to tourism.
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Myanmar's ancient capital of Bagan in June 2013. (Htoo Tay Zar/GlobalPost)

BAGAN, Myanmar – The van, packed with our team of eight journalism colleagues, set out from the airport and rolled through lush green fields dotted with red-brick and white-washed Buddhist shrines and pagodas. An impressive silence descended on the vehicle as we took in literally thousands of the structures that dot one of the world’s most memorable, spiritual landscapes. To think that such grandeur and engineering was possible more than 1,000 years ago is quite humbling, to say the least.

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Living at the gates of Myanmar's 'industrial revolution'

At the Hlaing Thar Yar Industrial Zone, a growing number of illegal residents live on the fringe of a manufacturing boom.
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Myo Kyaw Aung (R) sits with his wife May Thu at their home in the Hlaing Thar Yar Industrial Zone in Yangon, Myanmar on June 16, 2013. (Soe Than Win/GlobalPost)

YANGON, Myanmar — Myo Kyaw Aung had just started boiling the water for coffee when he mentioned the accident.

It was the middle of the night and he and his wife May Thu were fast asleep. Their four-year-old daughter quietly fell out the back of their one-room hut, slowly drowning in a pool of standing water just feet from where her parents lay.

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Measuring change in Myanmar at Yangon's iconic Shwedagon Pagoda

The gilded temple represents both ancient Buddhist rite and the modern protest movement.
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Light pours through the clouds into the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar. A mix of tourists, monks, and Buddhists who came to pray, leave offerings, and see the famous landmark, passed through the pagoda on Thursday morning during a brief and bright break from Yangon's June monsoon storms. (Natalie Keyssar/GlobalPost)

YANGON, Myanmar — On the first morning we set out into Myanmar to discover how the country is changing, we went to one of the places in Yangon that for centuries has largely stayed the same: Shwedagon Pagoda.

The 368-foot gold structure predates the city itself and serves as an emblem of the country. It has existed in its present form for centuries, and archeologists believe that the pagoda houses more ancient structures within its gilded walls (Burmese Buddhists believe it also houses eight hairs plucked from Siddhartha Gautama’s head).

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Journalists challenged to push Myanmar's reforms further

Press freedom is a recent development in Burma. This month journalism fellows from Burma and the US are exploring new possibilities for reporting here.
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Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi talks to journalists following her return from a trip to the ancient city of Bagan, at her house in Yangon on July 11, 2011. (SOE THAN WIN/AFP/Getty Images)

YANGON, Myanmar — As twenty young journalists gathered Wednesday for the introductory session of a three-week reporting fellowship based in Yangon, the event’s very existence was something of a marvel.

That’s because freedom of the press is a very recent development in Burma, part of a series of reforms initiated by President Thein Sein during the past two years after decades of Orwellian censorship and violent repression.

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