Myanmar signed a cease-fire on Thursday with several ethnic rebel groups after more than two years of negotiations aimed at bringing an end to long standing conflicts in the country.
President Thein Sein, a former general, made the countrywide ceasefire a fundamental platform for his reformist to-do list when he took power in 2011, ending almost fifty years of army rule.
In a grandiose ceremony in the capital Naypyitaw, representatives of eight armed groups sat alongside military generals and Myanmar President Thein Sein, signing the document in front of a crowd of thousands.
Thein Sein called the ceasefire a “historic gift” to future generations, saying, “This is our heritage. The road to future peace in Myanmar is now open."
President Sein added that he would continue to try hard to encourage other groups who rejected the deal to sign the ceasefire pact later.
The Karen National Union (KNU), which has fought for nearly 70 years against Myanmar's military, was amongst the groups which agreed to sign the deal.
The chairman of the group said, "The NCA is a new page in history and a product of brave and energetic negotiations."
US President Barack Obama backed the initiative, calling it a "foreign policy success."
He also called on Thein Sein to make the ceasefire part of wider changes to keep minorities safe.
US State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement on Thursday that "The United States commends all sides for their ongoing efforts to bring an end to the longest-running civil conflict in the world."
Kirby added that the US was concerned about reports of ongoing military offensives in the Kachin and Shan states and a lack of humanitarian access to 100,000 displaced people in those areas.
The Kachin Independence Organization, which controls vast areas of Kachin State in Myanmar's northeast, and The United Wa State Army - considered to be the largest and best equipped of the country's armed ethnic groups - did not sign the deal.
Myanmar officials explained that the two groups, which operate on the Myanmar-China border, had faced pressure from China not to sign while a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that China "welcomes and supports" Myanmar's political progress.
The United Nations, the European Union, India and China and others witnessed the signing of the ceasefire deal to prevent any security weaknesses.
Earlier this week, the Myanmar government removed all the groups who signed the deal from its list of "Unlawful Associations" as a step towards bringing them into legal and mainstream politics.
Although she was invited, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was among those who didn’t attend the ceremony.
In recent election rallies in ethnic-minority states Suu Kyi has called for ethnic groups not to rush into the deal, saying that any peace agreement has to be “real and true,” while her representatives said she had earlier-scheduled campaign stops.
Suu Kyi will be making her first campaign visit on Friday to the troubled Rakhine state, where the Rohingya live.
She had previously been criticised for not placing enough importance on the rights of Rohingya and sectarian violence against religious minority groups in the Myanmar.,However, she has rejected the claims, saying she has always expressed her concern about religious intolerance in Myanmar but has been restricted by laws against mixing religion and politics.