Updated at: 10/10/2013 11:05 AM
By AYE AYE WIN
(AP) YANGON, Myanmar - Representatives of Myanmar’s government and Kachin ethnic rebels said Thursday they made significant progress in their latest peace talks and that a comprehensive cease-fire agreement including all armed ethnic groups might be in sight.
Myanmar for decades has faced rebellions from minority groups seeking autonomy. The Kachin are the only major group that does not have an active cease-fire with the government, after a truce signed in 1994 broke down two years ago. But a Kachin spokesman said a cease-fire might be signed as early as next month.
Tensions with minority groups are considered the biggest threat to Myanmar’s stability, and the government is anxious to conclude a comprehensive cease-fire agreement, which would also help stem criticism from Western governments and rights groups over military repression.
The elected but army-backed government of President Thein Sein, which came to power in 2011 after almost five decades of repressive military rule, wants a peace agreement to complement the political and economic reforms it has implemented.
The government had hoped a nationwide cease-fire accord would be signed in July, but later postponed its goal to October and now is targeting November.
"It is likely that the nationwide cease-fire accord could be signed in November as the government has targeted," said Dau Hka, a spokesman for the guerrilla Kachin Independence Army.
Aung Naing Oo, who is helping facilitate negotiations for the government, said the three days of peace talks marked a significant improvement. He said there had been a major decline in armed clashes between the two sides since the last talks in May, when they signed a seven-point agreement to ease tensions.
The Myanmar Peace Center, for which Aung Naing Oo works, said the two sides "agreed to work together toward a nationwide cease-fire agreement and lay foundation for political dialogue" in their talks in the Kachin state capital, Myitkyina, in the country’s far north.
"The nationwide cease-fire agreement will include the government and all non-state armed groups and would represent an end to fighting in Myanmar for the first time since independence in 1948," it said.
The government and the Kachin have met more than 15 times without making any breakthroughs while clashes continued between them. In their latest meeting, they agreed to work to end all armed fighting, establish a joint monitoring committee, develop a plan for the voluntary return and resettlement of internally displaced persons and reopen roads in Kachin state.
Kachin spokesman Dau Hka said his side was encouraged to see stronger commitments by the government "to resolve political issues through political means and not through fighting."
He also described as "significant" the government’s willingness to allow all ethnic guerrilla groups to hold an official joint conference. He did not explain how such a meeting would differ from previous ones held by allied rebel groups, but said the conference is planned to be held at the Kachin guerrilla headquarters in Laiza on Oct. 28-30, and 11 armed groups would be invited.
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