11/04/2013, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Various Myanmar ethnic groups to agree on nationwide ceasefire

Seventeen of 18 ethnic groups at the Laiza conference sign draft agreement. Only the group representing Shan state did not sign pending consultation with Shan political leaders. The deal offers the first glimpse of hope for a lasting peace but only in 2015. Kachin leaders start talks with government representatives.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - Seventeen of 18 ethnic armed groups attending a conference in Laiza, northern Kachin state, have signed an agreement that could pave the way for a nationwide ceasefire. The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) was the lone holdout.

The Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) organised the meeting in an area that has been the scene of bloody conflicts between rebel militias and government forces. Now, "If negotiations on the ceasefire draft are approved, gunshots will no longer be heard after 2015," said Hkun Okker, a conference spokesman.

Although still far in the future, the timing offers a positive outlook to a fragmented country that has been torn by sectarian fighting for years.

The RCSS, the only group attending the conference that did not sign the agreement, wants more time consult political parties and civic groups in Shan State before committing itself to the peace plan. Many are hopeful that it would eventually join the other groups.

Although invited to the conference, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) stayed away. The leaders of the ethnic minorities represented in Laiza are also hopeful that the UWSA and NDAA would sign on once they know the terms of the deal.

So far, groups like the Karen National Union (KNU) and the New Mon State Party (NMSP), representing some of the country's most important ethnic groups, have accepted it.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi recently stressed the importance of the conference underway in Kachin State.

In an interview with AsiaNews, she said that "peace and unity" between Myanmar's ethnic and religious groups can be the only way to guarantee a "democratic" future to the country.

In Kachin State, fighting continues at present with thousands of civilians killed or displaced.

At the end of the conference, a delegation representing the ethnic groups left for Myitkyina, where a meeting is scheduled between the KIO and government officials with crucial implications for peace.

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