RANGOON, Burma (AP) _ Rebels of the Kachin ethnic minority signed a cease-fire agreement with the government Thursday, formally ending 32 years of armed rebellion.

The accord marked a major breakthrough for the repressive Burmese junta's quest for stability and legitimacy.

Details of the agreement, negotiated last year, were not immediately available, but Kachin leaders previously said it is limited to a military cease-fire.

Junta leader Khin Nyunt was present at Thursday's signing ceremony in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state, 615 miles north of Rangoon. The Kachin's leader, Brang Seng, who is recovering from a stroke, was absent.

State television showed Nyunt thanking the Kachin for returning ''to the legal fold,'' and calling on other rebel groups to enter into ''frank, cordial and honest discussions'' with the government.

A statement released in Bangkok, Thailand, by the Kachin Independence Organization, or KIO, called the cease-fire ''the first prerequisite for any serious discussions over lasting solutions to Burma's many grave problems.

''We sincerely hope that this will also help set the stage for a country- wide cessation of hostilities among all groups and organizations,'' the statement said.

The government has reached agreements with a number of other ethnic minorities. But the Karen National Union, a major ethnic rebel group that has been fighting for autonomy since Burma's independence from Britain in 1948, remains estranged from Rangoon.

The Kachin, who live mainly in an area of northern Burma, are one of a dozen minorities that have been battling the central government for autonomy.

The mostly Christian Kachin people formed the KIO in 1961 after the central government declared Buddhism the state religion.

KIO deputy chairman Zaw Mai, who led the Kachin delegation, said his people favored risking the agreement, and felt if it failed, that they could resume fighting.

Previous attempts by the Kachin to reach a political agreement with the government, in 1963, 1972, and 1980-81, failed because of Rangoon's insistence that the group first surrender its arms.

The agreement comes as the military junta's human rights record is being considered by the United Nations Commission in Geneva.

The junta, which took power in 1988 after crushing pro-democracy demonstrations, has been widely condemned for disregarding human rights.

U.S. Rep. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., allowed to have a rare visit last week with detained Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, cited the peace talks with the Kachin as a sign of the junta's apparent progress towards democracy.

On Tuesday, however, a U.N. special investigator accused the Burmese military of committing such violations as extrajudicial execution, forced labor, rape, forced relocation and confiscation of property.

''Atrocities are being committed consistently and on a wide scale by the soldiers of the Myanmar (Burma) army against innocent villagers, particularly those belonging to ethnic minorities,'' said a report by Yozo Yokota, who visited Burma last year.

Myanmar is the official name for Burma adopted by the military regime.