Myanmar is negotiating peace with major ethnic rebel groups and is determined to achieve a permanent peace with them in three to four years, the government's top negotiator said Friday.
Peace talks based on mutual respect are being held with the Shan, Mon, Karen, Kayah and Kachin groups, with the government's only condition being that the groups not demand to secede, said Aung Thaung, who heads the government's Peace Committee.
He told reporters that President Thein Sein ordered an end to fighting with Kachin rebels in the north Dec. 10 but skirmishes continued because communicating with troops in remote areas was difficult.
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 were strained as the central government sought to consolidate power, and combat resumed.
However, the new military-backed but elected government has embarked on reforms to try to end its international isolation. Western governments had imposed political and economic sanctions on Myanmar because of repression under the junta.
Ending war with ethnic rebels is one of the condition set by the West for improved relations, a point emphasized by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during her visit to Myanmar earlier this month.
A prominent Kachin mediator said government troops are continuing to attack Kachin villages and called for the recent cease-fire to be enforced.
The Kachin have been fighting the government since June, when the army tried to break up some of their militia strongholds.
"If the president's order is not immediately implemented and fighting not stopped, it could lead to distrust and further misunderstanding," Kachin mediator Rev. Saboi Jum told The Associated Press.
He said government attacks had continued at least as late as Wednesday.
"It seems that the president's order to stop fighting has not reached to the lower levels," he said.
Aung Thaung, a top member of the ruling pro-military Union Solidarity and Development Party, vowed the government will try its best to achieve peace.
"It could take some three to four years to achieve peace with ethnic groups but we are determined to achieve permanent peace during our term of office," he told local reporters.
Aung Thaung said "there is no peace in the country for more than six decades. Myanmar is the only country in the world where ethnic conflict has continued for six decades and the world looked down upon us. Thus we have vowed to try our best to achieve peace with armed ethnic groups."
He led a government delegation that met on Nov. 29 for peace talks with the Kachin Independence Organization in Ruili in China's Yunnan province.
A few days later, the Shan State Army-South rebel group reached a cease-fire agreement at the provincial level with the government. The group is one of the biggest not to previously sign a cease-fire with the government.