Cease-fire talks reopened Wednesday between the government and leaders of the country's most enduring ethnic rebel movement, highlighting another major task for Myanmar as it opens up and enacts political reforms.
The military-backed but elected government of President Thein Sein is seeking cease-fires with ethnic rebel groups as part of the political reforms started last year after decades of repression under military rule.
A statement from the Karen National Union said its general secretary Zipporah Sein led the group's delegation Wednesday from their headquarters on the Thai border for a second round of talks to run until April 11. Initial talks were held in January.
It said the latest talks would be held in Pa-An near the Thai border, and subsequently in Yangon and Bago in central Myanmar.
The KNU talks are the first to be held since the National League for Democracy party of Aung San Suu Kyi won 43 seats in by-elections on Sunday, giving it a voice in parliament for the first time, though as a vastly outnumbered opposition.
Her movement is loosely allied with most of the ethnic minority groups, who, like her party, also faced repression under the previous military regime.
Preliminary cease-fire pacts have been reached in recent months between the government and groups representing the Mon, Shan, Chin, Wa and Kokang minorities.
Most of the groups, however, insist that a political settlement giving them more autonomy is necessary to ensure lasting peace. One group, the Kachin in northern Myanmar, in actively engaged in sporadic though bitter fighting with the government.
"The purpose of these meetings is to engage all levels of society in the process of achieving peace in a nation that has been in armed conflict for several decades," said the KNU statement. "The KNU believes that lasting peace should be achieved through the combined effort of all people who are directly and indirectly affected by the coming political change."
The KNU has been fighting for greater autonomy from Myanmar's central government since the country obtained independence from Britain in 1948. A Myanmar government offensive in the mid-1990s wiped out most of the KNU's strongholds and crippled its fighting ability.
The KNU statement said the talks would focus on details of a cease-fire between the KNU and the government, the gradual extension of a cease-fire to cover the entire country, civilian safety, trust-building and safeguarding human rights.