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Myanmar, Kachin rebels in key peace talks

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Myanmar on Thursday looked to build on a tentative peace deal with Kachin rebels, with talks aimed at ending the country's last major active civil war.

Fighting in northern Kachin state has displaced tens of thousands since a 17-year ceasefire crumbled two years ago, with bouts of heavy combat that have undermined the reformist government's aim of securing countrywide peace.

The negotiations, which began on Tuesday and are set to be concluded Thursday, focused on the "root causes" of the conflict and were aimed at preventing further skirmishes, according to state-run New Light of Myanmar.

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

But 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.

Talks in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina -- the second to be held on home soil -- are being observed by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's special adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar.

Myanmar'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.

The New Light of Myanmar said the government's chief peace negotiator Aung Min "expressed his delight for fruitful results" of the meeting with the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and its armed wing.

It said discussions had covered military affairs, displaced people and logistics, "even though the committee has yet to sign a ceasefire agreement with KIO".

In the previous talks in Myitkyina in May, the two sides vowed to strive for a "de-escalation and cessation of hostilities".

They also agreed to hold 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.

In his visit to London in July, Thein Sein expressed hope that the country would soon "have a nationwide ceasefire and the guns will go silent everywhere in Myanmar for the very first time in over 60 years".

Later that month, Myanmar released some 70 political prisoners, many of whom were also from Kachin groups.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131010/myanmar-kachin-rebels-key-peace-talks