Burma (also known as Myanmar) appears to be on a fast track toward openness and democratization, after decades of harsh military rule that left it one of the least-developed countries in the world. Although the military still holds most of the power, President Thein Sein's new civilian government continues to pursue a broad campaign of political and economic reform, reconciliation, and engagement with the rest of the world. In January of 2012, more than 20 years after withdrawing its ambassador, the United States restored diplomatic relations with Burma. But with change comes challenge, especially for a nation mired in poverty and ongoing sectarian disputes. Collected here are recent scenes from Burma as its people struggle to emerge from 50 years of oppression.
An ethnic Rohingya girl wears traditional make-up in the village of Takebi north of the town of Sittwe, on May 18, 2012. Some 800,000 Rohingya live in Burma's northern Rakhine State under severe government restrictions that human rights monitors believe has fueled the current violence between predominantly Buddhist and Muslim communities that left a number of dead and houses burnt on both sides.
Workers handle bricks at a brick factory on the outskirts of Yangon, on May 10, 2012. As Burma prepares for an economic resurgence following the end of decades of military rule, wide-eyed firms from all over Asia are competing for a piece of the potentially lucrative pie. With largely untapped natural resources, including minerals, metals and fossil fuels, and a tourism sector left in ruins by sanctions, Burma sparkles with opportunity.
(Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images)
Burmese HIV-AIDS patients (from left, Nyein Nyein ,31, khim Khim kyi, 34, and Ngwe win, 35), in a room for female patients at the HIV-AIDS Care and Prevention center in Yangon, Burma, on April 4, 2012. The shelter houses around 150 men, women and children who are affected by AIDS.
(Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
A fisherman uses the Intha technique of leg-rowing, where one leg is wrapped around the paddle to drive the blade through water in a snake-like motion, to propel his boat across Inle Lake in Burma's Shan state, on December 31, 2010. The 13.5 mile long and 7 mile wide Inle Lake is one of the top tourist destinations in Burma. Dotted with stilt-house villages and floating gardens of the Intha tribes, boats are the main transportation modes around the lake.
A young supporter of the National League for Democracy (NLD) waits for preliminary election results outside of the part office in Yangon, Burma, on April 1, 2012. Aung San Suu Kyi stated that the by-elections would not be completely free and fair because of irregularities during preparations. The historical by-elections were seen as an important vote of confidence for the country as it continues on the road to political and diplomatic reform.
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Supporters of Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, shout slogans atop a truck during an election campaign for April 1 by-elections near the village of Wah Thin Kha in Burma, on March 31, 2012. On Sunday, the tiny village of thatched bamboo huts is expected to help vote the frail but intensely stalwart opposition leader Suu Kyi into public office for the first time, raising the prospect she could win the presidency itself during the next ballot in 2015.
(AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
Munane, 90 year old ethnic Karen refugee who begs for rice for herself and her disabled granddaughter after her parents died sits inside a home at the Mae La refugee camp near Mae Sot, on June 3, 2012. Asked about Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to the camp Munane said "If I'm younger I would go back to Burma. I believe Suu Kyi can change the country." Earlier, Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi visited Mae La, the biggest refugee camp along the Thailand-Burma border where tens of thousands of her compatriots found shelter after escaping from Burma.
Pah Taw rests on a bed covered by a mosquito net at the Karen Handicapped Welfare Association dormitory inside the Mae La refugee camp in Tak province, Thailand, on June 5, 2012. He lost his sight and his hands to an exploding land mine while he was a soldier with the Karen National Union. The refugee camp is situated along the Burma-Thailand border and is home to around 50,000 refugees.
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Pah Taw sits on a chair at the Karen Handicapped Welfare Association dormitory inside the Mae La refugee camp in Tak province, Thailand, on June 5, 2012. Pah Taw lost his sight and his hands due to a land mine explosion while he was a soldier with the Karen National Union. Mae La is the largest of nine camps along the Thai border where the Burmese live in a stateless limbo for many years.
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Rebel soldiers of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) at an outpost on the supply route between Laiza, a KIA-controlled stronghold in Burma's northern Kachin state on the border with China, and Paw Jaw, on May 16, 2012. Ethnic rebels from the Kachin Independence Army have battled the Burmese army for a year in a conflict that has displaced around 50,000 civilians and cast a shadow over government reforms.
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27 year-old HIV-positive Zinmar Nwe, whose husband died of AIDS, inside her hut in an HIV/AIDS hospice near Yangon, on May 26, 2012. The plight of the patients jere demonstrates the painful limits of democracy in Burma. While the government is pursuing reforms that promise to overhaul its health ministry and other institutions, the process is too slow to bring change to its most destitute. There are few better examples than AIDS sufferers, who, due to a combination of poor education, social stigma and bureaucratic mismanagement are isolated in clinics and cut off from society.
U Sam Hla, a terminally ill AIDS patient rests in his hut in an HIV/AIDS hospice near Yangon, on May 26, 2012. According to a recent report by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the largest provider of HIV treatment in the country, urgent action is needed to save lives of HIV-AIDS patients in Burma. 85,000 people in urgent need of lifesaving anti-retroviral therapy are not able to access it, according to the report. The Burmese government spends only 0.3% of the gross domestic product on health, the lowest amount worldwide, according to the United Nations Development Program 2008 survey (UNDP).
An ethnic Rakhine man holds homemade weapons as he walks in front of houses that were set alight during fighting between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities in Sittwe, on June 10, 2012. Northwest Burma was tense, after sectarian violence engulfed its largest city, with Reuters witnessing rival mobs of Muslims and Buddhists torching houses and police firing into the air to disperse crowds.
Defiant Buddhist women hold sharpened bamboo sticks as they guard their homes after fighting between Muslim and Buddhist communities in Sittwe, on June 9, 2012. Burma sent troops and naval vessels to the western state of Rakhine on Saturday after seven people died in the worst fighting in years between minority Muslim Rohingya and Buddhists.
(Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun)
Rohingya people wait for aid outside a mosque in Sittwe, on May 18, 2012. Some 800,000 Rohingya live in Burma's northern Rakhine State under severe government restrictions. The Rohingya are descended from South Asians and speak a regional dialect of Bengali. Most are stateless, recognized as citizens neither by Burma nor neighboring Bangladesh.
A Buddhist monk stands in the debris of burned houses still smoldering in Sittwe, Burma, on June 11, 2012. With fearful residents cowering indoors, security forces patrolling a tense town in western Burma collected bodies from the debris of homes burned down over the weekend in some of the country's deadliest sectarian bloodshed in years. The Buddhist-Muslim violence, which has left at least seven people dead and hundreds of homes torched, poses one the biggest tests yet for Burma's new government as it struggles to reform the nation after generations of military rule.
(AP Photo/Kihn Maung Win)
An ethnic Rohingya refugee from Burma attends a class inside the community school in Klang, a port town 30 kilometers west of Kuala Lumpur, on April 23, 2012. Malaysia has an estimated two million illegal migrants, most seeking economic opportunities, but the UN refugee agency said there also are about 97,000 legitimate refugees fleeing persecution or other hardship, mostly from Burma, including 23,000 Rohingya.
(Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images)