Myanmar’s government failed to sign a peace agreement with ethnic Kachin rebels over the weekend after three days of fruitless negotiations, officials said Monday.

Similar talks ended in failure in late January.

“The reason we couldn’t sign an agreement was because mutual trust still needs to be built up and has not reached a solid level yet,” Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) peace group leader Sumlut Gam said in the Chinese border city of Ruili. “But we hope we will have a peace deal one day.” Myanmar’s army has been carrying out an offensive against the KIO guerrillas since mid—2011 with the fighting in the northern state of Kachin displacing more than 40,000 civilians.

The Kachin are one of a dozen ethnic groups that have been struggling for semi—autonomy in their territories for the past five to six decades.

Myanmar’s pro—military government, which came to office a year ago, has this year signed tentative peace agreements with Karen, Shan, Chin and Mon rebel groups but has failed to ink a similar pact with the Kachin.

“If we cannot make it in this time, we will try a third, fourth and fifth time,” Aung Thaung, the government’s peace talks leader, said. “We are determined to have eternal peace with all ethnic groups.” One of the main obstacles to concluding a peace agreement was that the KIO wanted to discuss a long-term political solution to its claim to semi-autonomous rule in Kachin State before signing a ceasefire, sources said.

The government said the ceasefire must be signed first, in keeping with international practice.

The two sides signed a joint statement in which they agreed to continue their talks.

The Kachin Independence Army, the military arm of the KIO, is the only major rebel group still engaged in combat operations against government forces.

Myanmar has long been a pariah state subject to international sanctions because of its poor human rights record. Ending the ethnic insurgencies is one of the key conditions for Western countries to normalize diplomatic ties with Myanmar.

Another benchmark is an April 1 by-election, which opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party are contesting.

Western democracies are watching to see if the polls are free and fair before deciding to lift more economic sanctions on Myanmar.

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