Myanmar government and Karen rebels sign ceasefire

Myanmar government and Karen rebels sign ceasefire

Myanmar's government and one of the country's most prominent ethnic rebel groups signed a ceasefire today after decades of fighting, the latest in the country's apparent bids to reform.

A delegation of ministers from the capital Naypyidaw and senior members of the Karen National Union (KNU) signed the pact in Hpa-an, the capital of eastern Karen state, scene of one of the world's longest-running civil wars.

"The president has said we brothers have been angry at each other for 63 years and he asked us to give the KNU what they want. That's why we came here," said Immigration Minister Khin Yi before the pact was signed in front of reporters.

The military-dominated government, which came to power in March last year after decades of outright army rule, has been trying to reach out to ethnic groups as part of reforms seemingly aimed at ending its isolated status.

Civil war has gripped 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.

A leading KNU member known as Brigadier General Johnny expressed optimism ahead of the talks with the government.

"This time they didn't ask us to give up our arms, they just want to work for equal rights for ethnic groups," he told AFP. "This time we trust them."

But he added: "We have been fighting for 60 years and one meeting alone will not end it."

Vast numbers of villagers in Karen state, scene of Myanmar's oldest insurgency, have been forced to flee and tens of thousands of these refugees live in camps across the border in Thailand.

Rights groups say the government's counter-insurgency campaigns over the years have deliberately targeted civilians, driving them from their homes, destroying villages and forcing them to work for the army.

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