UN welcomes progress in Myanmar peace talks

AFP , Wednesday 6 Nov 2013

Myanmar's government says in a statement that parties to the dialogue had agreed to work on building a framework for a nationwide ceasefire deal

Members of Myanmar government peace negotiators and the representatives of more than a dozen armed ethnic rebel groups pose for group photos during their talk in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, Myanmar, Monday, Nov. 4, 2013 (Photo: AP)

The United Nations has hailed peace talks between Myanmar's government and armed ethnic minority groups as a "significant move" towards ending decades of civil war in the former junta-ruled nation.

The meeting in the conflict-torn northern state of Kachin on November 4-5 was the first for decades between a combined group of ethnic representatives and government negotiators on home soil.

The parties agreed to work on building a framework for a nationwide ceasefire deal and to hold political dialogue, the government said in a statement.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon's special adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, hailed the meeting as "a significant move forward in the national reconciliation process," in a statement released late on Tuesday.

"The fact that such a meeting could take place within the country testifies to the distance that the government and the ethnic armed groups has traversed since the beginning of the reform process," added Nambiar, who joined the talks in the state capital Myitkyina as an observer.

A new round of negotiations is due to be held next month in conflict-scarred eastern Karen state.

"I think a nationwide ceasefire agreement can be reached gradually if both sides adjust their demands," said Lamai Gum Ja, a spokesman of the Peace-talk Creation Group formed by local businessmen to try to mediate an end to the conflict in Kachin.

Myanmar has been beset by ethnic rebellions for decades and while tentative peace pacts have been signed with most armed groups a nationwide ceasefire has remained elusive, overshadowing widely praised political reforms.

Ongoing fighting in Kachin -- the country's last major active civil war -- prompted the UN last month to express concern for civilians.

The conflict flared up in June 2011 when a 17-year ceasefire crumbled. It has displaced some 100,000 people.

The government triggered international alarm in January with the use of air strikes against the Kachin rebels.

In May the government and Kachin rebels, meeting on home soil for the first time since the renewed fighting erupted, signed a seven-point plan to end hostilities in the remote northern region.

It came after Myanmar's government in February held peace talks with a federation of about a dozen ethnic groups, including the Kachin, across the border in Thailand.

While the KIA is the last major rebel army to agree to a preliminary peace deal, skirmishes occasionally break out between the government and other groups.

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