Myanmar, Kachin rebels agree ceasefire

Myanmar on Thursday reached a preliminary ceasefire deal with ethnic minority Kachin rebels, the last major armed group to agree to stop fighting after decades of civil war, a negotiator said.

Meeting on home soil for the first time since the conflict flared up again in 2011, Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and government representatives signed a seven-point plan including a vow to halt hostilities that have displaced tens of thousands of people, Min Zaw Oo told AFP.

"I think we have achieved a breakthrough," said Min Zaw Oo, a director of the EU-funded Myanmar Peace Center who took part in the negotiations in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina.

"The agreement is to stop fighting at this point and afterwards there are going to be detailed discussions about the repositioning of troops," he added.

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

Representatives of the KIA and President Thein Sein's reformist government held three days of talks in Myitkyina. Previous rounds of negotiations had been held across the border in China.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's special adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, also joined the meeting for the first time as an observer, along with representatives of China and other ethnic minorities.

Civil war has plagued parts of the country formerly known as Burma since it won independence from Britain in 1948.

While the KIA is the last major rebel army to agree to stop fighting, skirmishes occasionally break out on the ground between the government and other groups.

Min Zaw Oo, who has been involved in several peace agreements, said Thursday's deal was "more comprehensive" than some of the deals signed with Myanmar's other rebel groups.

There was no immediate comment from the KIA, while a presidential spokesman hailed the agreement as "really good news".

According to the UN, about 100,000 people have been displaced in the remote, resource-rich region, where a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the rebels broke down in June 2011.

Thein Sein's government has agreed tentative ceasefires with most of Myanmar's ethnic rebels as part of its reforms, but fighting in Kachin has persisted.

The military's use of air strikes against the KIA in December caused an international outcry.

While the rebels reacted cautiously to subsequent government pledges to end the military offensive, fighting has eased in recent months.

The Kachin, who want greater autonomy, say negotiations should address their demands for more political rights.

Since coming to power two years ago, Thein Sein has surprised even cynics by freeing hundreds of political prisoners, easing censorship and letting opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi enter parliament.

But international optimism over the sweeping changes has been marred by the Kachin conflict and several eruptions of sectarian strife around the country.

In the latest outbreak of religious violence, one person was killed and five injured Wednesday in Buddhist-Muslim clashes in the eastern state of Shan, bordering Kachin.