Written by Editorial Staff
Fighting between ethnic rebels and the Burmese (Myanmar) government troops has sent at least 15,000 refugees fleeing into Thailand after a widely criticized election expected to usher in a parliament sympathetic to the military regime.
Fighting raged Monday at key border points, wounding at least 10 people on both sides. In the heaviest clashes, Karen rebels reportedly seized a police station and post office Sunday in the Burmese border town of Myawaddy. Sporadic gun and mortar fire continued into Monday afternoon, but Thai officials said late Monday that fighting had died down, and government troops had regained control of Myawaddy.
Samard Loyfar, governor of Thailand’s Tak province, said the UN was helping to care for 15,000 refugees being sheltered at a makeshift camp. The refugees are expected to return home soon, but it was the biggest one-day tide of refugees to flee into Thailand in recent years.
Groups representing ethnic minorities who make up some 40 percent of the population had warned in recent days that civil war could erupt if the military tries to impose its highly centralized constitution and deprive them of rights.
The elections was part of the ruling junta’s self-proclaimed “road map to democracy,” but most observers have rejected Sunday’s poll as engineered to solidify military control as the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) was certain to win an enormous share of the seats. The largest anti-government party, the National Democratic Force (NDF), contested just 164 spots of the 1,159 sets in the the two-house national parliament and 14 regional parliaments.
As early results trickled in Monday, state media and the Election Commission reported that 40 junta-backed candidates had already won their races. But virtually no other official results—even on voter turnout—were available, and there was no timetable for releasing them.
NDF chief Khin Maung Swe accused the USDP of using every possible method to steal the vote including pressuring voters and miscounting ballots.
The NDF is led by breakaway members of the former National League for Democracy led by detained activist Aung San Suu Kyi. Her party won a landslide victory in the last elections in 1990 but was barred from taking office. Suu Kyi is supposed to be released from house arrest this Saturday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.