Myanmar Rebels Say Talks Small Step Towards Peace
 
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Kachin rebels fighting the government in Myanmar's far north said Tuesday new peace talks held in China were a limited step towards finding a solution to the bitter conflict.

The two sides discussed ways to establish communication channels, reduce military tension and work towards a surveillance system with the goal of achieving a ceasefire, according to a joint statement released Monday.

They agreed to hold another round of talks by the end of this month in the presence of observers and to continue political dialogue, after the one-day meeting in the Chinese border town of Ruili.

But the rebels were cautious about prospects for a durable peace in Kachin, where tens of thousands of people have been displaced since a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the rebels broke down in June 2011.

"Yesterday's meeting was only about preparations for further meetings between the two sides," Sung Lyut Gam, who headed the delegation from the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), said on Tuesday.

"We cannot say exactly how optimistic we are about reaching a proper deal as we don't know what the other side is thinking," he told AFP. "It would be good if this kind of meeting continues in the future."

Chinese officials as well as representatives from the Shan and Karen ethnic minority groups also attended Monday's talks as observers.

The Myanmar government last month announced a unilateral ceasefire with the Kachin but the fighting continued, with government troops capturing a key outpost and edging closer to the rebels' headquarters near the Chinese border.

The Kachin, who are fighting for greater autonomy, say any negotiations should also address their demands for more political rights.

Almost a dozen previous rounds of talks failed to quell the violence.

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut said the fact that the two sides had managed to release a joint statement on Monday and that other ethnic minority groups wanted to be involved marked progress in the long-running peace efforts.

Fearing an influx of refugees, China has urged an end to the fighting, which has overshadowed sweeping changes in Myanmar under reformist President Thein Sein following the end of decades of harsh military rule in 2011.

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