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Myanmar holds 'positive' peace talks with rebels

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Myanmar held fresh talks with Kachin ethnic minority rebels Monday, vowing to keep up efforts to find an elusive breakthrough in a conflict that has overshadowed dramatic political reforms.

The two sides agreed to continue dialogue with the aim of reaching a "strong ceasefire" in Myanmar's violence-wracked far north, according to a joint statement released after the talks in the Chinese border town of Ruili.

They agreed to hold another meeting before the end of February.

"Both sides discussed in a friendly and open manner," said Hla Maung Shwe, a government-appointed mediator who took part in the meeting.

"As we have agreed on future talks, I think it was positive," he told AFP by telephone.

Although a dozen rounds of talks between the government and the Kachin since 2011 have failed to make progress, the fact that the two sides were meeting at all for the first time in months was seen as a positive development.

Senior Chinese officials also took part in the meeting, along with Minister of the President's Office Aung Min and Kachin leaders

"The Chinese government wants the fighting at the border to stop as they want stability," said Aung Kyaw Zaw, an analyst with close ties to the Kachin Independence Organisation who was monitoring the talks.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing "would like to continue to play a constructive role for the peace talks".

The Myanmar government last month announced a unilateral ceasefire with the Kachin but the fighting continued, with the government army capturing a key outpost as it edged closer to the rebels' headquarters near the Chinese border.

The Kachin, who are fighting for greater autonomy, say any negotiations should also address their demands for more political rights.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced since June 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the Kachin broke down.

Beijing, which fears an influx of refugees, has urged an end to the fighting, which has overshadowed sweeping changes under reformist President Thein Sein following the end of decades of harsh military rule in 2011.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130204/myanmar-holds-positive-peace-talks-with-rebels