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Burma Government,  Karen Rebels Hold Talks in Rangoon - 2004-01-21

A delegation from Burma's largest rebel group, the Karen National Union, is wrapping up a week of unprecedented talks with government officials in Rangoon. Rebel leaders say progress has been made toward a formal cease-fire after decades of insurgency.

The Burmese government so far has been tight-lipped about the talks, but a leader of the rebel Karen National Union, Lieutenant Colonel Nerdah Mya, says KNU delegates have told him they have gone well.

"They don't want to say anything until they get back to Bangkok," said Nerdag Mya. "So far, they said everything is good, positive."

Colonel Mya, who spoke from Thailand, is the son of KNU Vice Chairman Bo Mya, the senior military commander who is heading the delegation to Rangoon.

During the visit, the delegation met with Burmese Prime Minister Khin Nyunt.

The group is due to return to Bangkok Thursday.

Thousands of Karen civilians have died since the rebellion began 55 years ago, a year after Burma's independence. Hundreds of thousands more Karen peasants have been made homeless during one of the world's longest running insurgencies.

The two sides have previously tried to open cease-fire negotiations but these efforts have stalled over the government's demand that the rebels first lay down their arms.

Colonel Mya says that condition was dropped.

"This time before the talks, they said there are no conditions," he said. "We can sit down and solve our problems at the negotiating table."

Burma's military government has been pressing former rebels among the country's ethnic minorities to participate in a national convention to draft a constitution leading to democracy. The government is also trying to draw in several groups that have not signed cease-fire agreements.

The convention is part of a seven-point plan aimed at easing Burma's international isolation. The government faces tough economic sanctions from much of the world because of its harsh treatment of opposition politicians, who won national elections in 1990, but were never allowed to rule.