Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) supports Philippine government in counter-offensive against Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF); Myanmar ends media censorship; Myanmar likely to become a mid-income nation by 2030; Myanmar to probe sectarian cl
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  • According to reports, for the first time in its history, the separatist rebel group of Philippines, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has supported the Philippine military's counter-offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway group of Moro rebels led by renegade Ameril Umbra Kato. MILF has recently issued formal statements condemning the recent unprovoked attacks by the BIFF against government militia detachments in Maguindanao where scores have been killed and thousands of civilians now seeking shelter in evacuation centers. Reports noted that the BIFF attacks were aimed at "shaming" the MILF, which has just concluded its 30th exploratory talks with the Philippine government. The latest round of talks ended on August 11, 2012 in Kuala Lumpur. The two sides are scheduled to meet again soon. 1

    According to reports, the Asian Development Bank, on 20 August 2012 said that strong economic growth could lift Myanmar to the rank of middle income nation by 2030. However, this is possible only if the formerly army-ruled country overcomes a host of reform challenges. Myanmar's gross domestic product (GDP) has the potential to expand at an annual pace of 7.0-8.0 percent, while per capita income could triple over the next 18 years, the Manila-based multilateral lender said. It called for greater investment in infrastructure, education, health and social services to put the country on a sustainable recovery path. The ADB and the World Bank both recently opened offices in the impoverished country, which is emerging from decades of military rule under a new reformist government. 2

    In another development, according to Myanmar’s information ministry statement, "Starting from August 20, all media publishing political and religious information are exempt from the obligation to get the approval of the information ministry's department of media control and registration before publishing.” The reform, the latest in a series of pro-democratic changes, might lead to an end to the country's censorship history that lasted for more than five decades. Information Minister Kyaw Hsan announced in March, 2012 that censorship was abolished for 173 dailies and weeklies and 124 magazines publishing information about culture, sports, fashion, science and technology, but religious and political information remained under state control. 3

    According to media reports, Myanmar has set up a new commission to probe sectarian clashes that saw scores killed and displaced tens of thousands, following intense scrutiny of its handling of the issue. The 27-member commission, which includes religious leaders, artists and former dissidents, will "expose the real cause of the incident" and suggest ways ahead. It was further added that commission’s remit is to establish the causes of the June violence, the number of casualties on both sides and recommend measures to ease tensions and find "ways for peaceful coexistence".4
    Reports noted that the foreign ministry of Malaysia has ordered the temporary closure of its embassy in Syria due to ongoing conflict in the country. However, the ministry added that the embassy would not be shut permanently as several Malaysians still reside in Syria. 5

    In other developments in the region, according to reports, more than 50,000 convicts, including those sentenced for graft, murder and drug running, have been granted sentence reductions as the Indonesia celebrated its 67th Independence Day on August 17, 2012. Among high profile convicts receiving remission of sentences were Australian drug smuggler Schapelle Corby, former tax official Gayus H Tambunan, and former Garuda Indonesia pilot Pollycarpus Budihari Priyanto, who was sentenced for his role in the murder of human rights activist Munir Said Thalib. 6