Myanmar's president yesterday signed a draft national ceasefire with armed rebel groups that the UN hailed as a "historic and significant achievement" as the country tries to end decades of civil war. Reformist leader Thein Sein, who has placed a national ceasefire agreement at the heart of efforts to shake off the legacy of military rule, said an end to the fighting was within reach - even though unrest continued in northern border areas. "The people need peace, they desire peace and they expect peace," he told representatives of 16 major ethnic minority armed groups at the draft signing ceremony in Yangon yesterday, adding that a full agreement could be signed within months. "After that is signed, the road is open for political dialogue," he said. "This action will ensure the peace builders a place in Myanmar's history." His surprise appearance came after a breakthrough in talks announced on Monday when representatives from the rebels, army and government agreed a tentative deal that sets out a framework for a countrywide ceasefire. But the draft will be officially signed only after a conference of the ethnic armed groups, at a time yet to be agreed. Negotiators said some of the more contentious points had been excised from the agreement in a move likely to have enabled the draft to be accepted. The UN, which has acted as an observer at months of peace negotiations, said the tentative deal was a "milestone" for the former junta-run nation, which has battled some of the world's longest-running civil wars. "For the government of Myanmar and 16 ethnic armed groups to reach a ceasefire agreement after more than 60 years of conflict is an historic and significant achievement," it said in a statement on behalf of UN Special Adviser Vijay Nambiar. It said although "many concerns and difficulties [remain] … the seeds of change in Myanmar are beginning to sprout".