Burma's government signed a cease-fire today with ethnic Karen rebels in a major step toward ending one of the world's longest-running insurgencies and meeting a key condition for better ties with the West. The Karen group has been fighting for greater autonomy for more than 60 years in a guerrilla campaign in eastern jungles that dates to before Burma's independence from Britain. It has been the only one of the country's major ethnic groups never to have reached a peace agreement with the government.
Bringing a lasting halt to all of the country's long-running ethnic conflicts has been a crucial demand of Western governments. For decades, Burma has been at odds with the ethnic groups who seek greater autonomy, but the military junta that took power in 1988 signed cease-fire agreements with many of them. The Karen have been the most enduring adversaries: Karen guerrillas were able to advance close to what was then the capital, Rangoon, in 1949. After the military seized power in 1962, the Karen struggle expanded and they eventually controlled large swaths of territory along the border with Thailand. The group has benefited from an unusual source of strength—many of its leadership were Christians and have been able to draw support from foreign donors, including in the United States. (Read more Burma stories.)