Myanmar hails new Kachin rebel peace agreement

Myanmar and Kachin rebels signed a fresh peace deal Thursday, government mediators said, the latest step in efforts to end the country's last major active civil war.

The deal, which follows three days of negotiations, was aimed at laying the "foundation for political dialogue" and working towards ending the conflict in Kachin that broke out two years ago when a 17-year ceasefire crumbled.

"We’re working not just towards a just and sustainable peace but towards a new political culture, one built on compromise, mutual respect and understanding," said Aung Min, the minister leading the government's peace efforts, in a statement.

"The challenges are complex and are rooted in more than half a century of violence, but I’m confident that we are turning the corner," he added after the talks in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina -- the second round of negotiations on home soil.

Fighting in Kachin near the northern border with China has continued since June 2011 and displaced some 100,000 people according to the United Nations.

The bloodshed -- along with religious unrest elsewhere in the country -- has overshadowed widely praised political changes as Myanmar emerges from decades of military rule.

President Thein Sein's reformist government has reached tentative peace deals with most major ethnic minority rebel groups in the country, which has been racked by civil wars since independence from Britain in 1948.

The talks, which are being observed by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's special adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, saw the Kachin rebels agreeing to work towards a nationwide ceasefire -- a key aim of the regime.

In his visit to London in July, Thein Sein expressed hope that "the guns will go silent everywhere in Myanmar for the very first time in over 60 years".

Myanmar has more than 130 official ethnic minorites and over a dozen major armed rebel groups, which have campaigned for greater autonomy.

The latest deal with the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and its armed wing, which built on a previous deal in May, includes provisions to "work to end all armed fighting" and form a plan to resettle those displaced by the violence.

The two sides also discussed the future of political dialogue -- a key demand of the Kachin, who have long argued that negotiations should address their demands for more political rights as well as greater autonomy.

The country's quasi-civilian regime released some 56 political prisoners on Tuesday to coincide with the start of negotiations, with activists saying many of those freed were linked to the Kachin rebels.

Myanmar released some 70 political prisoners in July, many of whom were also from Kachin groups.

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