YANGON - Myanmar's government will sign a long-negotiated ceasefire on October 15 but with only eight rebel forces, officials said Sunday, as several major insurgent groups declined to ink an agreement that excludes some factions.
More than two years of talks to end decades of civil war in the nation's rugged borderlands have gained momentum in recent weeks, with the government eager to reach a deal before November's general election.
But hopes for a nationwide ceasefire have crumbled after several rebel groups refused to sign an agreement without the inclusion of all insurgent forces - notably some smaller organisations locked in conflict with the army.
"The NCA (Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement) will be signed on October 15 in Naypyidaw," Hla Maung Shwe, a senior member of the government's negotiating team, told AFP, adding that eight groups including the prominent Karen National Union were on board.
"We will keep inviting all ethnic armed groups to sign," he said, referring to the 15 rebel organisations the government has agreed to negotiate with.
Major groups including the Kachin Independence Army have refused to sign the agreement, and clashes between them and government troops have intensified in recent weeks as the negotiations reach a critical juncture.
On Saturday a confederation of ethnic armed groups urged the international community to support efforts for "genuine political dialogue and peace" in Myanmar.
"As the NCA is going to be signed by only some organisations, it cannot be a decisive and complete one," the United Nationalities Federal Council said in a statement.
Myanmar's government had agreed to allow 15 ethnic armed groups to sign the deal, but rejected some half a dozen organisations put forward by a consortium of ethnic minority armies seeking full inclusion in the ceasefire.
At a meeting between some ethnic armed groups and government officials at the Myanmar Peace Centre in Yangon earlier Sunday, chief government peace negotiator Aung Min said the army "had no intention to launch an offensive against these groups because they didn't sign the NCA".
"It wasn't an easy decision for our government to make to continue with the NCA because the northern groups are not ready to sign," he said, according to a transcript of his opening speech on the centre's Facebook page, referring to forces including the KIA.
Aung Min added that the government "accepts all-inclusiveness in principle" and would seek ways in which other groups could take part.
The ceasefire deal will be signed in the presence of local and international witnesses, according to Hla Maung Shwe.
He said the government would also invite opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party is contesting its first general election in a quarter of a century on November 8.
Conflict in Myanmar's northernmost state of Kachin has left some 100,000 people displaced since a ceasefire deal collapsed soon after the end of junta rule in 2011.
Fighting between government troops and rebels also erupted this year in the Kokang region of the northern state of Shan, causing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, many into China. Most have since returned.
President Thein Sein's quasi-civilian government, which took power four years ago, sees a nationwide ceasefire as opening the way to more complex political dialogue and questions of federalism.
The army which ruled for almost half a century asserted its legitimacy by stamping its own concept of unity on the diverse nation, and was accused of widespread abuses across ethnic minority areas.