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Myanmar Signs Cease-Fire Deal with 16 Rebel Groups

Myanmar President Thein Sein (front 3rd L) and Naing Han Tha (front 3rd R), a leader of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT), shake hands after signing a nationwide ceasefire draft agreement at the Myanmar Peace Center in Yangon, March 31, 2015.

The government of Myanmar and representatives from 16 major ethnic rebel groups signed a draft cease-fire Tuesday that all sides hope will end decades of fighting.

President Thein Sein said at Tuesday's signing ceremony that the framework peace deal is the first step toward a political dialogue with the rebel groups.

U.N. Special Adviser Vijay Nambiar called the deal a "historic and significant achievement." He said it was a sign that "the seeds of change in Myanmar are starting to sprout."

The U.S. Embassy in Myanmar said the trust established through the negotiations is an essential foundation for an "inclusive, transparent and meaningful political dialogue, which remains the core requirement for lasting peace."

Before a final deal is signed, the rebels plan to hold a conference to finalize the terms. No date for the conference has been set.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has seen more than 65 years of clashes between the government and rebel groups trying to secure autonomy in many border regions.

The military-dominated government and the rebels have held seven rounds of peace talks since 2013. The government hopes to have a final deal in place by the end of the year.

But the talks have been complicated by renewed fighting in the Kokang region of Shan state, where ethnic Chinese rebels have engaged in fierce battles with Myanmar security forces since February. The Kokang rebels are not part of the peace negotiations.