Myanmar's government and its most enduring ethnic rebel group agreed Friday to firm up a cease-fire while negotiating a more a comprehensive peace plan.
The Karen National Union announced the agreement at a news conference in Yangon after negotiating with government representatives. Less formal talks were held Wednesday in Karen state in eastern Myanmar near the rebel group's strongholds on the Thai border.
The 13-point agreement sets up a code of conduct to monitor tries a cease-fire that was reached in January. There had been clashes between the two sides after the January agreement.
The military-backed but elected government of President Thein Sein is seeking cease-fires with ethnic rebel groups as part of political reforms started last year after decades of repression under military rule.
Through the reforms, which include the release of political prisoners and engagement with the pro-democracy movement of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, it hopes to win an end to economic and political sanctions imposed by Western nations because of repression under the previous military regime.
The KNU has been fighting for greater autonomy from Myanmar's central government since the country obtained independence from Britain in 1948.
Both sides said further talks were planned.
"We will continue to hold talks until we achieve lasting peace because we don't want to continue fighting," said Naw May Oo, a member of the KNU delegation.
Railway Minister Aung Min, who has been conducting many of the negotiations with ethnic rebel groups, led the talks for the government side, while the KNU delegation was headed by its general secretary, Naw Zipporah Sein.
Asked if there is any likelihood of the peace talks being derailed, Aung Min said "There could be hiccups along the way, but with conviction by both parties, we will overcome any difficulties."
Friday's agreement, like the one in January, was preliminary and provisional, setting out intent to work toward a comprehensive peace. The January talks were conducted at the regional level, while Friday's were among national leaders.
However, they also appeared to be the most serious talks in decades between the sides, who have held negotiations before only to have them break down.
The points agreed upon Friday included to work step-by-step for a nationwide cease-fire and end to conflict in ethnic areas; to set up a code of conduct to maintain a cease-fire that guarantees the security of the people; and to draw up plans to resettle internally displaced people and ensure work and food security in their home areas.
The long-running fighting in Karen state, also called Kayin, has caused many people to seek refuge elsewhere in Myanmar or in Thailand.
Friday's agreement also covered demining and listing Karen political detainees to apply for amnesty. Thein Sein's government has released hundreds of political prisoners, but at least five dozen KNU members remain behind bars.
The government in the past year has reached cease-fires with ethnic 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, is actively engaged in sporadic bitter fighting with the government.