Myanmar government holds talks with ethnic rebels
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Last Updated: Tuesday, November 22, 2011, 19:55
Bangkok: Myanmar's leaders have begun a new round of peace talks with several ethnic groups fighting a long-running struggle for autonomy and rights, a major rebel organisation said today.

Government minister Aung Min met delegates from some of the country's ethnic groups on Saturday near the Thai-Myanmar border, said Colonel James Lum Dau of the Kachin Independence Organisation, one of the groups attending.

Since Myanmar gained independence in 1948, conflict between the army and rebels from various minority ethnic groups has led to decades of violence, allegations of grave human rights abuses and the displacement of tens of thousands of people.

"This was preliminary talks between the government and ethnic armed groups," Lum Dau, who is based in Bangkok, said today, "This was an introduction for talks in the future," he said, adding that the meeting was a "good sign".

He told AFP that fighting was currently "very very serious" in northern Kachin state, one of the regions of most concern. "Everyday we are killing each other," he said.

Saturday's meeting, which included groups representing the Kachin, Karen and Shan minorities, came at the end of a landmark week for army-dominated Myanmar, which won Southeast Asia's approval to chair the region's political bloc in 2014 and a seal of approval from the United States.

While a new nominally civilian government that took power this year has won praise for some surprising reformist moves, concerns remain about relations with ethnic minorities, who make up more than a third of the population.

Speaking to Myanmar journalists at a summit in Indonesia on Saturday, President Thein Sein said his government was in talks with seven out of eight active insurgent groups.

He said the government was trying to "build trust" but the groups would "have to promise not to try to secede from the country", according to the Myanmar Times.

"We will look to implement more projects to raise their living standards while at the same time negotiate with them.

If it works they will not be holding weapons in the future."

Hillary Clinton, who will become the first US Secretary of State to visit Myanmar in 50 years next month, raised the issue in an interview with Fox News on Friday.

"We'd like to see an end to the conflicts, particularly the terrible conflicts with ethnic minorities," she said.


First Published: Tuesday, November 22, 2011, 19:55

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