PA-AN, MYANMAR // Myanmar's government signed a ceasefire with ethnic Karen rebels to try to end one of the world's longest-running insurgencies.
The breakthrough is part of the government's efforts to resolve all conflicts with separatist groups.
The government and the 19-member Karen National Union (KNU) delegation agreed in principle to 11 points and signed two broad agreements to end hostilities between the military and the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and start dialogue towards a political settlement to a 62-year conflict.
The ceasefire could be a small step towards the lifting of two decades of sanctions imposed on Myanmar by the EU and the US, which have made peace with ethnic militias a prerequisite for a review of the embargoes.
Peace talks have been held on six occasions since 1949, but no lasting agreement has been reached.
The deputy leader of the KNU delegation, Saw David Htaw, said the climate of change in Myanmar under its new reform-minded government made dialogue inevitable.
"We have never been more confident in our talks. According to the changing situation everywhere, peace talks are unavoidable now, this is something we have to pass through without fail," he said.
"The people have experienced the horrors of war a long time. I'm sure they'll be very glad to hear this news. I hope they'll be able to fully enjoy the sweet taste of peace this time."
Through the KNLA, its military wing, the KNU has fought successive governments for greater autonomy since 1949, a year after Myanmar gained independence from Britain.
Saw David Htaw praised the government's peace negotiators as "honest and sincere".
As well as the sanctions issue, peace with the KNU is vital for Myanmar's economic interests.
If the conflict resurfaces, it presents a security threat that could disrupt construction of the US$50 billion (Dh183.5bn) Dawei Special Industrial Zone, which will be South-east Asia's biggest industrial estate when completed and a major source of income for the impoverished country.