Burma rebels hold ceasfire talks


Leaders of Burma's most enduring ethnic rebel movement have reopened ceasefire talks with the government, highlighting another major task for the country as it opens up and enacts political reforms.

The military-backed but elected government of President Thein Sein is seeking ceasefires with ethnic rebel groups as part of the political reforms started last year after decades of repression under military rule.

A statement from the Karen National Union said the two sides met near the rebel headquarters on the Thai border.

It said they discussed the idea of setting up a code of conduct for maintaining a ceasefire as well as having a team to monitor the agreement.

The KNU has been fighting for greater autonomy from Burma's central government since the country obtained independence from Britain in 1948.

A government offensive in the mid-1990s wiped out most of the KNU's strongholds and crippled its fighting ability.

The KNU talks are the first to be held since the National League for Democracy party of Aung San Suu Kyi won 43 seats in by-elections on Sunday, giving it a voice in parliament for the first time, though as a vastly outnumbered opposition.

Her movement is loosely allied with most of the ethnic minority groups, who, like her party, also faced repression under the previous military regime.

Preliminary ceasefire pacts have been reached in recent months between the government and groups representing the Mon, Shan, Chin, Wa and Kokang minorities.

Most of the groups, however, insist that a political settlement giving them more autonomy is necessary to ensure lasting peace.

One group, the Kachin in northern Burma, is actively engaged in sporadic though bitter fighting with the government.

"The purpose of these meetings is to engage all levels of society in the process of achieving peace in a nation that has been in armed conflict for several decades," the KNU statement said.

"The KNU believes that lasting peace should be achieved through the combined effort of all people who are directly and indirectly affected by the coming political change."

The statement said the talks would focus on details of a cease-fire between the KNU and the government, the gradual extension of a cease-fire to cover the entire country, civilian safety, trust-building and safeguarding human rights.

An initial round of talks took place in January. The current discussion will last until April 11, with future rounds to be held in Rangoon and Bago in central Burma, the KNU said.