Naypyidaw: Myanmar's government on Thursday held a somber ceremony marking the nation's symbolic unification after the colonial era, but a coveted ceasefire with ethnic rebel groups remained out of reach as conflict sweeps across northern borderlands.
The quasi-civilian regime says peace in the ethnically diverse but conflict-prone nation is pivotal to the success of reforms and Myanmar's development.
It had hoped to reach a breakthrough in the protracted negotiations in time for the Union Day celebration, which saw starched-uniformed soldiers parade in front of civil servants and ethnic minority leaders, many proudly wearing their traditional clothes.
But hours of talks today between President Thein Sein and around a dozen ethnic minority armed groups in the capital Naypyidaw produced only a lacklustre commitment to work towards peace that was signed by just four rebel groups.
The discussions come amid deadly unrest in the northern states of Kachin and Shan.
Talks have also been hampered by distrust between rebel groups and the Myanmar military, as well as issues such as disarmament and the concept of federal armies.
"People worry what would happen if there is no ceasefire. That's why we are trying everything possible. Fighting is easy. Trying to get peace is more difficult," said Phado Saw Kwe Htoo Win, of the Karen National Union who is also part of the negotiating team for the ethnic groups.
In an ominous development, clashes earlier this week between Myanmar's army and rebels in the largely ethnic Chinese Kokang area of Shan reopened a conflict that had been largely dormant for nearly six years.
Information minister Ye Htut said the military was "striving to restore safety and security" in the area, after state-backed media reported that government forces had used airstrikes in their efforts to flush out the rebels.
Beijing said the conflict had caused a flood of people to cross the border, without giving specific numbers.