Bangkok: One of the main ethnic rebel groups battling Myanmar`s government signed a preliminary cease-fire on Friday, websites operated by exiled journalists reported.
The reported agreement comes as Myanmar`s army-backed but elected government is seeking international legitimacy through democratic reforms after years of military repression. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton just concluded a visit to the country that was intended to encourage those reforms.
The Shan State Army-South rebel group was one of the biggest not to previously sign a cease-fire with the government.
The Thailand-based Irrawaddy website reported the rebels signed an agreement with Myanmar`s official Shan State government. India-based Mizzima News and the Shan Herald Agency for News, a website close to the guerrillas, reported similar news.
During her visit that ended Friday, Clinton offered modest incentives to the new government, while calling on it to end brutal campaigns against ethnic minorities, free all political prisoners and break military ties with North Korea.
Myanmar for decades has been at odds with the ethnic groups who seek greater autonomy, but a military junta that took power in 1988 signed cease-fire agreements with many. Some of those pacts have been strained as the central government sought to consolidate power, and combat resumed.
Neither the government nor the rebel group would immediately confirm the new cease-fire, but the Shan Herald Agency`s report cited Shan rebel leader Lt. Gen. Yawdserk saying an agreement was reached on a cease-fire, political negotiations, development and cooperation against drugs.
It was not clear when or if the Shan group would sign a cease-fire agreement with the central government.
Myanmar`s government in recent weeks has held high-level but low-profile talks with rebel groups with which it has never signed cease-fires, or had cease-fires that have broken down. The groups reportedly involved in talks include the Shan, Karen, Karenni, Chin and Kachin.
A high-level government delegation met Tuesday with the Kachin Independence Organization in Ruili in China`s Yunnan province, Myanmar`s state press reported this week. The Kachin, whose state is in the north, have been fighting the government since June, when the army tried to break up some of their militia strongholds.
The reports said both sides agreed at the meeting to continue the initial peace talks aimed at a cease-fire and political dialogues.
Kachin sympathisers have circulated accounts of government brutality, but the remote area is mostly inaccessible to foreigners and the allegations are difficult to confirm. The government has reported little on the fighting.
Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has described an end to the fighting with ethnic guerrillas as national priority, and last month said she would be willing to help with peace negotiations.