YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's government plans to bring an end to a series of decades-old conflicts with ethnic rebels within three years and has ordered troops to halt offensives against Kachin militias, its top peace negotiator said.
The government was discussing ceasefire agreements with numerous armed ethnic groups and would eventually shore up the deals at a special conference in parliament to find "everlasting peace," said Aung Thaung, Minister of Industry and head of the Union Level Peace-Making Group.
"It will take us up to three years to reach peace agreements with all ethnic armed groups," Aung Thaung told reporters on Friday.
Ceasefires with Myanmar's many border-based armed ethnic groups have been a key demand by the West for sanctions to be lifted and the government has made it a priority among a wave of reforms launched in the past few months.
The reforms include the release of more than 200 political prisoners.
U.S. officials say the peace process might prove the toughest challenge ahead for civilian leaders who are eager to bring the long-isolated Southeast Asian nation in from the cold after five decades of iron-fisted army rule.
Aung Thaung said agreements had been reached with 10 groups so far and President Thein Sein had told the military to withdraw from combat with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of Myanmar's most formidable guerilla forces.
However, fighting with the KIA continues, according to rights groups and Kachin sources, despite Thein Sein's order, the existence of which had not been disclosed until now.
"There might be sporadic skirmishes in remote areas because troops there might not have received the instruction due to a lack of a proper telecommunication system," Aung Thaung said when asked why troops had not heeded Thein Sein's instruction.
Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who plans to run in a by-election next year for a vacant parliamentary seat, has been pushing for peace deals for years and has advocated autonomy under a federal system for at least three ethnic groups.
Suu Kyi called for a "Second Pinlong Agreement" last year, a revival of an autonomy plan drafted in February 1947 and backed by her late father and independence hero, Aung San, but aborted after his assassination five months later.
Thein Sein planned to hold a conference in parliament that would be much bigger than the Pinlong Conference, Aung Thaung said, aimed at cementing all the separate ceasefire agreements and ensure the conflicts would not reignite.
(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Paul Tait)