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An end to one of the world's longest wars? Myanmar rebels cautious. (+video)

Ceasefire talks between the Myanmar government and the Karen ethnic minority army hold the possibility of an end to one of the world's longest-lasting wars.

By Correspondent / January 12, 2012

Members of Myanmar's peace committee (l.) and representatives of Karen National Union (r.) shake hands after signing a peace agreement in Pa-an, Burma (Myanmar), Thursday. The Myanmar government has signed a cease-fire agreement with ethnic Karen rebels, taking a major step toward ending one of the world's longest-running insurgencies.

Khin Maung Win/AP

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Bangkok, Thailand

After a six-decade war between the government of Myanmar (Burma) and one of the country's ethnic minority militias, a historic peace is in reach after ceasefire talks today. 

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The deal would mark the end of one of the world's longest wars – the Myanmar Army and the Karen ethnic minority’s army have fought since 1949 – and is being taken as another signal that the Myanmar government may be sincere about reforming its old authoritarian ways. But members of the Karen ethnic minority aren't celebrating just yet.

General-Secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU) Army, Zipporah Sein, says that “we are happy to hear that the government wants to make an agreement,” but says that the deal being discussed in the Burmese town Pa'an has yet to be finalized. 

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Earlier today, government representative Aung Min told journalists that “a cease-fire agreement has been signed,” and photographs emerged in wire reports of beaming delegates on both sides shaking hands across a table, the Burmese in green uniform and the Karen in traditional dress.

But General-Secretary Zipporah Sein says that the KNU wants Myanmar's Army to halt fighting in other ethnic areas of Myanmar – not just in areas where the KNU is active – before the deal is final. The government delegation agreed in principle to this," she stresses. 

She has reason to be cautious. Hundreds of thousands of Karen and other Burmese have fled into Thailand in recent decades, where there are currently around 140,000 refugees, mostly Karen, in nine bamboo-hut camps dotting the Thailand-Myanmar border.

Several militias representing other ethnic minorities have signed ceasefires with the government, but since June 9, the national Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), a 10,000-strong militia in Myanmar's northern Kachin state, have fought some heavy battles, with an estimated 50,000 civilians fleeing their homes.

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