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Rebel armies sign ceasefire with Myanmar government

In an important step to resolving decades of conflict, the government of Myanmar and rebel armies have agreed to a truce. The largest insurgencies, angry at ethnic Burmese majority rule, have so far refused to sign.

The pact, finalized in a ceremony in Myanmar's administrative capital Naypyitaw on Thursday, was signed by President Thein Sein and representatives of eight rebel armies. That the larger Wa and Kachin paramilitaries declined to participate was a major blow to Thein Sein, who had hoped the ceasefire would mark the pinnacle of his term in office.

Smaller ethnic groups, which make up around 40 percent of the country's 52 million inhabitants, have mounted insurgencies off and on since the country gained independence from Great Britain in 1948. Unhappy with majority Burmese rule, they have clamored for greater autonomy and control over natural resources in their regions.

Some of these groups have also suffered abuses from the military, as well as discrimination in access to education and basic public services.

Meaningful change or political ploy?

Despite two armies refusing to cooperate, the "National Ceasefire Agreement" could mark a meaningful stride towards resolving one of the world's longest civil conflicts.

"Although some organizations are currently not ready to sign, the government decided to conclude the (agreement) with the vanguard group," said Thein Sein at the signing.

"We will continue with our efforts to bring the remaining organizations into the process. The door is open for them," he continued. "The road to future peace in Myanmar is now open."

The ceremony was attended by representatives from the United Nations, the European Union and China.

The deal comes just before parliamentary elections set for November 8, which will lead to a ballot for the next president. Critics argue that without the consent of the powerful Kachin Independence Army, the only real beneficiary is Thein Sein himself, who could use his image as a peacemaker to win a new term.

es/kms (AP, Reuters)

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