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Myanmar removes names from blacklist. What does it mean for reform?

Myanmar’s government has trimmed 2,082 names from its notorious blacklist, but ambiguity over the list and fighting in remote ethnic minority borderlands make some worried about the direction of reform.

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After announcing what observers describe as a reform-oriented cabinet reshuffle on Monday, Myanmar's government lifted a ban on more than 2,000 blacklisted exiled dissidents today.

However, fresh fighting was reported Monday between the Myanmar army and the Kachin Independence Army in war-torn Kachin state, a resource-rich and mainly Christian-populated region in the north of Buddhist-majority Myanmar (Burma), adding an estimated 6,000 people to the some 75,000 already displaced by fighting since June 2011.

The removal of the names from the blacklist and the changes in cabinet have been welcomed as signs of more reform in Myanmar, now almost 18 months into a reform process under a nominally civilian government. However, fighting in remote ethnic minority borderlands and a lack of clarity about the blacklist relaxation makes some unsure about the overall direction of reforms.

"It is encouraging to learn some names are removed, but there needs to be transparency, to know whose names are on the list, whose names are being removed,” says Cheery Zahau, a human rights activist from Chin state in Myanmar's west.

More than 4,083 people are still blacklisted, according to the state newspaper The New Light of Myanmar, and there is not yet a published list of names of those who can return to Myanmar and those who are still barred.

Myanmar's president, Thein Sein, has beckoned Myanmar exiles and economic migrants to return home, citing not only political reforms such as the freeing of political prisoners, but the need to reverse a debilitating brain drain in the long isolated country, which is among the poorest in Asia.

Ms. Zahau, a Christian Chin who lives in exile in Thailand along with more than 140,000 Myanmar war refugees and some 3 million migrant workers, says she hopes to return to her homeland.

“We all want to contribute back to our communities if the government's reforms allow us to do so,” she says.

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