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Largest Burmese Rebel Group Agrees to Cease-Fire


The largest remaining rebel group in Burma says it has agreed to an informal cease-fire after the military government pledged to halt an offensive in the country's east. Senior officials of the Karen National Union made the announcement in Thailand after returning from a week-long trip to Rangoon.

The foreign secretary of the Karen National Union, David Taw, calls the six days of meetings beneficial, saying they were a new step toward peace.

"We didn't have any [cease-fire] signing agreement at this moment," he said. "We only confirmed how the military positions will be set up. And then we will continue with a future round of talks within one month."

The KNU announced an informal cease-fire last month after junior-level talks with the government, but fighting has continued.

Mr. Taw said Thursday the Burmese authorities pledged to order regional commanders to halt the offensive against Karen areas in the east, and calls it a concrete deal.

He says the 21-member delegation, which met twice with Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, also discussed the thousands of Karen peasants who have been displaced by fighting. They will develop proposals to bring to a future meeting, which he indicated would be in Burma.

Burma's military government has not commented on this week's meetings with the Karen leaders.

The two sides have held previous talks but they foundered on the government's insistence that the KNU lay down its arms before a cease-fire began. The government dropped this condition.

Seventeen former rebel groups have signed cease-fire agreements with the Burmese government. The government is pressing the groups to attend a national convention to draft a constitution. This is the first step of a "road map" announced last August aimed at restoring democracy in Burma and ending decades of economic sanctions.

Mr. Taw says, however, the convention was not discussed.

"We didn't talk about any kind of political issues, including the national convention," he said. "But we listened and asked questions to get more information about the road map and then we have some documents with us to read."

The government says it plans to hold the convention this year.

But it is not clear if the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, will be included in the conference. The NLD swept elections 14 years ago but was not allowed to govern. Many of its leaders have been in detention since last May.

The rebel delegates say they plan to resume the talks after discussions with the full KNU leadership in northwestern Thailand. The KNU has been fighting the Burmese government for 55 years - one of the world's longest-running insurgencies.

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