Talks aimed at reaching a peace agreement in Myanmar between the government, army and ethnic armed groups ended without resolution Friday as negotiations stumbled on whether a deal should include all rebel groups.
With time running out to reach a ceasefire ahead of crucial November 8 elections, negotiators said they were unable to seal an agreement. The issue was the very last sticking point in months of talks and it is not yet clear whether another round of talks can be held before the polls.
"We could not conclude a deal today because both sides were unable to negotiate the issue," said Pu Zing Cung, of the ethnic group delegation.
He added that ethnic organizations want 17 groups included in the agreement, but the government has balked at including several of them.
The long-running negotiations, aimed at ending civil wars that have blighted the country for more than half a century, have snagged on whether to include several armed groups still locked in combat with the army. The country was run by a military dictatorship until elections were held in 2010, but the military still wields enormous power and influence.
Earlier, lead government negotiator Aung Min conceded that inclusiveness was "very important for the peace process."
But observers say the nation's powerful military is vigorously opposed to including some of the smaller insurgent groups which it is still sporadically fighting on the frontlines, including in northern Kachin and Shan states.
The talks come as Myanmar's government is battling floods that have killed scores of people and left more than 330,000 affected across the country.
But the quasi-civilian government, which took power four years ago, has pressed on with the peace negotiations that it has placed at the heart of its reforms.
It sees a nationwide ceasefire as opening the way to more complex political dialogue, and the possibility of a federal system, in a country where the army has for decades hung its legitimacy on enforcing its own concept of unity.
Elections in November may reset the negotiations if a new government comes into power, with Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition expected to win large numbers of seats in the polls.
In March, President Thein Sein secured a draft deal with more than a dozen rebel groups to end decades of fighting, a move described by the United Nations as a "historic and significant achievement."
But the government is eager to seal a full nationwide ceasefire before elections, which are seen as a key test of reforms after decades of military rule.
Outbreaks of sometimes heavy fighting in multiple regions have cast a shadow over the process, with lingering distrust between longstanding enemies also hampering progress.
Conflict in Kachin state 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 ethnic Chinese rebels also erupted this year in the Kokang region of northern Shan state, causing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, many into China.
The inclusion of the Kokang rebels in the peace deal, along with their allies the Arakan Army and Ta'ang National Liberation Army, has been an issue for the military.