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Myanmar agrees truce with major rebel group: reports

3 December 2011,AP

Authorities in Myanmar have reached a preliminary ceasefire deal with a major armed ethnic militia, reports said, in the latest sign the regime is reaching out to its opponents.

The truce was signed Friday between the Shan State Army South and local authorities in the northeastern state, the editor of the Thailand-based Shan Herald Agency for News, Khuensai Jaiyen, told AFP, citing rebel contacts.

Myanmar's Shan State Army (SSA) soldiers, seen here parading during a 'gradution

The was no immediate confirmation from the Myanmar government or the Shan State Army, but the Irrawaddy news website, run by journalists in exile, said the agreement in the Shan State capital of Taunggyi also included government assurances of economic development and joint efforts against drugs.

It said the next step would be negotiations with the central government.

The country formerly known as Burma has made a series of reformist moves in the past year — freeing democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, holding dialogue with the opposition and freeing some political prisoners.

Elections last year brought a nominally civilian government to power, but it retains close links with the army.

Civil war has wracked parts of the country since its independence in 1948, and an end to the conflicts, as well as alleged human rights abuses involving government troops, is a key demand of the international community.

Myanmar’s leaders last month held peace talks near the Thai-Myanmar border with several ethnic groups fighting a long-running struggle for autonomy and rights, according to people involved.

Most insurgent groups have agreed ceasefires with the government, and the Shan State Army South has been one of the biggest rebel forces still fighting, with thousands of troops mostly stationed near the border with Thailand.

The mainly Buddhist Shan are the country’s second-biggest ethnic group, accounting for about nine percent of the population, and Shan State covers a vast area of northeastern Myanmar.

In eastern Karen State, armed rebels have been waging Myanmar’s longest-running insurgency, battling the government since 1949, while fighting has also raged since June in northern Kachin State near the Chinese border.

Myanmar state media reported on Thursday that peace talks had been held between the government and the Kachin Independence Organisation, and the two sides had agreed to continue dialogue.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed what she said were efforts by the regime to resolve ethnic conflicts, after historic talks with the country’s rulers in the capital Naypyidaw on Thursday.

“But as long as the terrible violence continues in some of the world’s longest-running internal conflicts, it will be difficult to begin a new chapter,” she said.

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