Tue, Nov 09, 2010 - Page 1 News List

Karen rebels flee Myanmar for Thailand after poll

AFP, YANGON, Myanmar

Deadly clashes erupted yesterday in Myanmar between government troops and ethnic minority rebels, prompting an exodus across the border in the wake of a poll that the junta’s proxies looked sure to win.

At least three civilians were killed when heavy weapons fire hit the town of Myawaddy in Karen State, an official in Myanmar said. There was no information on any troop casualties on either side. Clashes were also reported further south near Three Pagodas Pass.

Zipporah Sein, the Thailand-based general-secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU), said there had been fighting between government forces and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) troops in the two areas.

“I don’t think the DKBA will surrender,” she said.

About 10,000 people fled across the frontier to Thailand, including many women and children, said Samart Loyfah, the governor of Thailand’s Tak Province.

Sporadic fighting continued to be heard in Myanmar, he said.

Many rebel groups have signed ceasefire agreements with the regime, but tensions have increased after the junta’s attempts to bring minority armies under state control as “border guard forces” met with fierce resistance.

The violence came a day after an election that was strongly criticized by Western governments because of widespread complaints of intimidation and the detention of democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. However, China hailed the polls as a sign of progress and most other Asian nations remained silent.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Washington would maintain “rigorous sanctions” against the regime while it holds political prisoners, abuses human rights and refuses dialogue with the opposition.

The electoral process was “severely flawed, precluded an inclusive, level playing field, and repressed fundamental freedoms” she said.

China’s state-run Global Times said Beijing supported “Myanmar’s plan to transform its political system, but knows it will not happen overnight,” while New Zealand joined the critics, saying opposition candidates were impeded by electoral rules that restricted their campaigns and registration, and hampered press freedoms.

“That the playing field was tilted was evident from the regime’s refusal to allow credible international observation, or foreign media, to witness the election,” New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said.

A senior Myanmar official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said voter turnout was estimated at more than 60 percent but the results from the whole country could take one week. However, with 25 percent of the seats in parliament reserved for military appointees, the two main pro-junta parties needed to win just another 26 percent from the elected seats to secure a majority.

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