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Myanmar government, rebels agree on draft ceasefire

Myanmar's military and rebels have agreed on a draft ceasefire to end decades of civil war in the country. President Thein Sein made a surprise appearance at the negotiations.

Rebel leaders in Myanmar agreed upon a draft peace deal with the government in a move that could end several decades of civil war in the South East Asian nation.

President Thein Sein (pictured above, third from left), who made a surprise visit to the talks, said an end to the fighting was within reach.

"The people need peace, they desire peace and they expect peace," Thein said, adding that after the deal was signed, "the road is opened for political dialogue." The action would "ensure the peace builders a place in Myanmar's history," the leader added.

The United Nations, which participated as an observer in the talks, welcomed the breakthrough.

"For the government of Myanmar and 16 Ethnic Armed Groups to reach a ceasefire agreement after more than sixty years of conflict is a historic and significant achievement," UN Special Adviser Vijay Nambiar said in a statement.

Final deal expected in May

The draft ceasefire deal, formulated by the government's negotiating team, known as the Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC) and the coalition of Myanmar's armed ethnic rebels, the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), would be further discussed by rebel leaders before being implemented.

"If everything goes well, the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement will be signed by top leaders of ethnic armed groups in Naypitaw in May," Hla Maung Shwe, a senior advisor in the negotiations told Reuters news agency.

Myanmar witnessed a

transition into democracy

in 2011. The government, under former army general and now President Thein Sein, made ending hostilities with ethnic rebel groups one of its main priorities.

Rebels and the government have been involved in violence since 1948, when the country gained independence from British rule. Ethnic rebel groups participating in peace negotiations include the Kachin Independence Army, whose readiness to sign a draft deal has been a significant breakthrough for the government.

However, the government still faces challenges in the country's northern Shan state, where Kokang militias fight Myanmar's forces. Tens of thousands of people have fled across the border to China, which in turn is accused of fomenting the

Kokang insurgency.

mg/lw (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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