The signing took place in Hpa-an, capital of the war-torn Karen state. This preliminary pact was “based on trust”, KNU spokesman David Htaw told the press. The group is choosing a representative for the talks with the central government that are expected to take place within 45 days. Mr Htaw sounded out positively about the government.

The military-led government came to power in March 2011 after decades of army rule. It has been reaching out to the marginalised ethnic groups as part of the reforms that are taking place which commentators agree are aimed at ending Myanmar’s isolation from other than China.

Great numbers of villagers in the Karen state have been forced to flee and tens of thousands of these live as refugees in camps across the Thai border.

News of the ceasefire was greeted warily by Karen living abroad. It is widely acknowledged that there must be political dialogue for a permanent political solution. Also, all Karen splinter groups need to be included in the talks. One third of Myanmar’s population is made up of ethnic minorities. Other ethnic factions seek greater autonomy and more self-governing rights.

In December, a cease-fire deal was reached between the local government and the Shan State Army-South, another major ethnic military group.

Since the new government was elected, other promising steps have included talks with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who is to stand in the April by-election. Another new development was the halting of a Chinese-backed dam that is seen as highly disruptive to country dwellers lives.