Myanmar’s government has reached a ceasefire agreement with one of the country’s biggest ethnic rebel groups, a mediator said Friday, the latest sign of political rapproachement as the new civilian leadership embarks on a series of reforms.
The deal was agreed with the Shan State Army (South) on Friday and will soon be finalised, resulting in a cessation of long-running hostilities between government troops and militias and cooperation on drugs suppression, said Kyaw Yin Hlaing, a member of the civic group Myanmar Egress.
“Some of agreements they reached are to cease fire, to open liaison offices, cooperate in combating narcotics and to discuss area demarcation at the national level talks,” Kyaw Yin Hlaing told Reuters.
Peace talks with Myanmar’s many armed ethnic groups have long been a key demand by the West in order to have sanctions lifted and the deal comes during US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s landmark visit to a country that was ruled by the military for five decades until March this year.
Clinton met democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi Friday in Yangon, where both called for ceasefires that US officials say may prove the toughest challenge ahead for civilian leaders who appear eager to quickly bring the long-isolated Southeast Asian nation out from the cold.
The government has held preliminary talks with other ethnic armies in recent months, including the powerful Karen National Union and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which have fought the army since independence from Britain six decades ago.
Myanmar’s army, known as the “Tatmadaw,” had been engaged in conflicts on multiple fronts from June with the KIA and the SSA-S near the border with China and the KNU along the eastern frontier with Thailand.
State media said Thursday a delegation led by Railways minister Aung Min had met members of the KIA in China during which both sides “agreed to continue initial peace talks for ceasefire and political dialogue.”
The KIA is seen as one of the strongest and most resolute in resisting calls to disarm.
Nobel laureate Suu Kyi last month said she would run in a by-election expected next year to contest a vacant parliamentary seat, a move that could help legitimise Myanmar’s heavily criticised legislature and push through promised reforms in the country also known as Burma.
She has long said peace deals between ethnic rebels and the government are a top priority and has advocated autonomy under a federal system for at least three ethnic groups.
Suu Kyi last year called for a “Second Pinlong Agreement,” which would mean the revival of an autonomy plan drafted in 1947 and backed by her late father and independence hero, Aung San.
Aung San was assassinated in July 1947 and the Pinlong deal was never put into effect.
Ko Ko Hlaing, chief political adviser to President Thein Sein, told Reuters recently that the government would offer economic incentives to pacify ethnic minority groups and ensure peace deals held. -By Aung Hla Tun