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Burmese Ethnic Groups Conclude Ceasefire Talks

General Mutu Say Poe, second from right, Chairman of Karen National Union (KNU), receives flowers from a woman upon his arrival to attend ethnic armed organizations conference in Laiza, Burma, Oct. 30, 2013.
Burmese ethnic groups have ended a major conference in the northern town of Laiza with a pledge to unify for ceasefire talks with the government.

The three-day conference, with representatives from 17 ethnic groups, was held at the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the political arm of the main Kachin ethnic rebel group.

Delegates from the various ethnic groups are to attend ceasefire talks with the government next week. The national government, which was not invited to participate in the meeting of ethnic groups, says it hopes to sign a comprehensive national ceasefire sometime in December.

Khun Okkar, Secretary of the umbrella group the United Nationalities Federation Council, tells VOA the conference resolution calls for a possible new deal with the government to replace agreements between individual groups and the national government.

“Our final agreement supersedes previous frameworks and we stand together under one policy, which basically undertakes credible responsibilities on behalf of all ethnic nationalities," he said. "We also agreed upon dealing together with government representative as far as signing a ceasefire agreement is concerned. It means not to sign solo an agreement with government, because we have seen precedence of government forces fighting intensely with the rest of the ethnic armed group who did not sign such deal. That was why [we] agree to stand unity on common policy.”

Burma's various minority ethnic groups have been fighting against the national government for decades and most have reached unofficial ceasefires with the army in recent years.

The Wa ethnic group, which is among the most powerful of Burma's ethnic minorities, did not accept an invitation to attend the meeting of ethnic groups.

During the meeting in Laiza, the delegates also discussed strategies to push for changes to the national constitution that would give more autonomy to each state, but no progress was reported on this issue.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Burmese service.