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Politics

Myanmar ethnic groups partially agree on federal state principles

Full accord still elusive as sides disagree on secession rights

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's de facto leader, center, attends the closing ceremony of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference in Naypyitaw on May 29.

NAYPYITAW -- Representatives from the Myanmar government, military and eight armed ethnic groups reached agreements on various matters of contention, including the basic principles for establishing a democratic federal system that would give the groups greater autonomy, at the second meeting of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference, which ended on Monday.

The eight groups, including the Karen National Union, currently have cease-fire agreements with the government.

Suu Kyi speaks at the conference's closing ceremony in Naypyitaw on May 29.

The parties agreed on 37 points, from language and education to cultural preservation and the economy.

The representatives remained at odds, however, on whether to permit secession from the federal system and how to treat forces controlled by the armed groups. Those matters will be taken up at the next meeting, to be held in six months.

The Panglong conferences are aimed at working out ways to achieve lasting peace in Myanmar through establishing a new federal system that closes the book on seven decades of conflict. The first gathering was held in August last year under the initiative of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's de facto leader.

"We do not know how far we still have to go along this path (for peace) ... but we must never retreat through fear of the hazards that might lie ahead," Suu Kyi said at the closing ceremony on Monday.

Many sticking points, including the option of succession, remain. 

On the matter of the "single army" principle, which means that the country should have just one national army, the armed groups insisted on creating a "federal army" that would enable them to retain their respective armed forces. Representatives from the military and the rebel groups extended their talks on this subject by a day until the early hours of Monday, but they were unable to iron out their differences.

That and other unsettled issues will be addressed at later conferences.

Though the meeting marked progress toward establishing a federal system, there are still 13 other armed ethnic rebel groups in the country. Seven groups that have yet to sign cease-fire agreements, including the United Wa State Army -- the biggest one, with estimated 40,000 to 50,000 soldiers -- attended the meeting as observers.

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