Ethnic rebels in Myanmar reach common position on cease-fire

Ethnic rebel groups in Myanmar said Saturday they have reached a common negotiating position to move ahead with peace talks with the central government.

More than 60 representatives from 17 ethnic rebel groups gathered at the rebel-held town Laiza for a crucial close-door conference that started Wednesday to find out ways to deal collectively on a nationwide cease-fire agreement planned by the government next month.

All but one of the groups attending the conference, after a series of intensive talks, signed an 11-point common negotiating position on the government-planned nationwide cease-fire, a statement released at the end of the meeting said.

The details of the common position were not released. But some meeting participants said it includes demands that the government commit to turn the state into a federal system and ensure the autonomy of ethnic groups.

The government-drafted cease-fire agreement does not contain such assurances, sources close to the process said.

The rebels also formed a 13-member Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team, the statement said.

Representatives of the Restoration Council of Shan State, one of the ethnic Shan rebel groups, did not sign the agreement, saying they needed to consult with the group's leadership.

Most of the rebel groups gathering in Laiza, a small town near the Chinese border, have already reached individual cease-fire agreements with the government. But the Kachin Independence Organization, which is headquartered in Laiza, has not.

However, the Kachin Independence Organization is due to meet with the government's Union Peace Work Committee in Myikyina, the capital of Kachin State, on Monday for further negotiations.

Since it assumed power in 2011, Myanmar's civilian government led by President Thein Sein has worked to broker peace deals with all ethnic minority rebel groups in the country.

Signing a nationwide cease-fire agreement would be a vital step in moving to the final stage of Thein Sein's peace process, namely holding political dialogue to achieve a permanent peace framework. The move would have to be endorsed by parliament.

The Thein Sein government has so far secured cease-fire agreements with 14 ethnic groups, including major insurgency forces such as the Karen National Union, which has been fighting for self-determination for more than six decades.