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Burma signs ceasefire with rebels

The Burmese government has signed a ceasefire agreement with ethnic Karen rebels, taking a major step towards ending one of the world's longest-running insurgencies.

The government's peace committee met leaders of the Karen National Union in the Karen state capital, Pa-an.

A government official at the talks told reporters: "A ceasefire agreement has been signed."

The negotiations were part of government efforts to end international isolation. Ending war with ethnic rebels is one of the conditions set by Western countries for improved relations.

Karen rebels have been fighting for autonomy for 63 years and were the only major group in Burma that had not reached a peace agreement with the government.

The talks between officials and Karen National Union leaders were part of efforts by Burma's new, nominally civilian government to seek international legitimacy through democratic reforms after years of military repression.

The Karen group has been fighting for greater autonomy in a guerrilla campaign in eastern jungles that dates back to before Burma's independence from Britain. It has been the only one of Burma's major ethnic groups never to have reached a peace agreement with the government.

For decades, Burma has been at odds with the ethnic groups who seek greater autonomy, but a military junta that took power in 1988 signed ceasefire agreements with many of them. Some of those pacts were strained as the central government sought to consolidate power, and combat resumed.

The new government that took office after November 2010 elections has embarked on reforms to try to end its international isolation. Western governments had imposed political and economic sanctions on Burma because of repression under the junta.

In recent months, the government has held talks with rebel groups to strike new peace deals or rebuild shattered ceasefires. The other groups reportedly involved in talks include the Shan, Karenni, Chin and Kachin.

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