Yangon (AFP)

Accessing major global websites, from Google to Wikipedia, was so far almost impossible in the Burmese language. But everything is about to change, the country, long closed to the outside world, adopting from next week a universal computer code.

More and more people are connected to the internet and have a mobile phone in Burma. Yet, the country is one of the last in the world to switch to "Unicode".

Without this standard code, e-mail messages or web pages from abroad are unreadable, with characters being replaced by empty lines of symbols. Translation and local recognition software does not work anymore.

The digital giants Apple and Microsoft have been helping for many years many countries to standardize their standard. But Burma, held for decades with an iron fist by the military, has remained an exception and uses another code "Zawgyi" ("wizard").

The official switch to Unicode, from October 1st, should allow a better compatibility of communications with the rest of the world and better information since foreign sites can now be read in Burmese.

"It's like moving to democracy," enthuses computer expert Burman Zaw Htut.

Despite the arrival in power of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2016, attacks on freedom of the press and the freedom of information remain numerous in the country much criticized by the international community following the exactions of the army against Rohingya Muslims. They have fled since 2017 by hundreds of thousands to neighboring Bangladesh.

But if the passage in Unicode for administrations, media or large companies in the country should be relatively easy, it is not the same for individuals, especially the most disadvantaged.

Many phones illegally imported into the country and sold at low prices are pre-installed with the code "Zawgwi" and 10 to 15% of older phones can not be converted, say experts.

© 2019 AFP