NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (AP) — The Myanmar government's efforts to make peace with ethnic minorities took another step forward Monday as representatives of the country's biggest minority group, the Shan, met with the country's reformist president in the capital.
Shan State Army (South) leader Yawd Serk said after the talks that President Thein Sein had agreed with his side's proposal to form a committee to work toward peace.
Since independence in 1948, Myanmar has faced rebellions from a number of minorities seeking autonomy. Sporadic fighting continues with several groups, including the Shan in the east and the Kachin in the north.
"Even though Myanmar is a country with rich natural resources, the country has lagged behind due to the 60-year-long civil war. We came here to discuss how we can cooperate in the future to end this civil war," Yawd Serk told reporters.
President Office's Minister Aung Min said the main obstacle to ending the fighting was the need for the sides to agree on where their troops are allowed to be stationed.
It was the first time that Shan rebel leaders have held face-to-face talks with the president, who took office in 2011 after almost five decades of repressive military rule. One other major ethnic rebel group, the Karen National Union, previously held direct talks with Thein Sein.
On May 30, the Kachin ended three days of peace talks with the government with a tentative deal to de-escalate fighting and continue a political dialogue. There had been 14 previous rounds of talks, and the agreement appeared to be an incremental step toward a cease-fire rather than a breakthrough. The Kachin insist on a political settlement, not just a cease-fire.
However, the government said at that time it hopes to reach a comprehensive peace agreement with all ethnic groups in the next month or so.
The Shan have reached several cease-fire agreements with the government and have also been holding peace talks for the past two years, but fighting continues. In mid-May, the government blamed the Shan group for an attack at a state-owned oil and gas site that left two dead and three wounded at Namkham near the Chinese border.
New fighting broke out early that month in the same area between government troops and the Shan State Army, forcing more than 2000 Shan villagers to flee to the border, the Shan said.