Myanmar peace talks in crunch phase as polls loom

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar's government, military and armed ethnic groups held talks in Yangon on Friday as negotiations to end decades of civil war entered a last-gasp phase before a historic November election.

Long-standing enemies have come to the negotiating table since a quasi-civilian government took power four years ago as the former junta-run nation bids to reach a ceasefire deal and resolve bloody ethnic conflicts.

But as the looming general elections threaten to sweep the peace process off the agenda, lingering suspicions continue to overshadow the deal.

"Trust is very important in negotiation. We can be successful only if negotiations are based on trust," La Ja, one of the leaders of the delegation representing the armed ethnic groups, said during opening remarks.

In March President Thein Sein secured a draft deal with more than a dozen rebel groups to end decades of fighting, described by the United Nations as a "historic and significant achievement".

Now the government wants to seal a full nationwide ceasefire before elections on November 8 which are seen as a key test of reforms after decades of military rule.

But skirmishes continue in northern Kachin state, where a ceasefire deal collapsed in 2011 soon after the end of junta rule.

The teams have already agreed to 10 points with the final three points to be discussed at a further set of meetings, according to lead government negotiator Aung Min.

He said Friday's discussions would focus on other thorny issues "beyond the nationwide ceasefire agreement" including which leaders would sign the deal and who would monitor the agreement.

The ethnic groups have called for the deal to include three groups currently locked in combat with government troops - the Arakan Army, Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Kokang - which observers say has created a sticking point in the talks.