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Thousands flee border clashes after Burma polls

Video by Cyril PAYEN

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2010-11-08

Fierce clashes have erupted between ethnic minority Karen rebels and government soldiers in the Burmese border town of Myawaddy a day after key polls, forcing thousands to flee into neighbouring Thailand.

Violent clashes between rebel troops and Burmese government soldiers broke out on Monday in the eastern town of Myawaddy in Karen State, a day after the military state held general elections.

A Thai official told AFP that at least 10,000 Burmese civilians had crossed into Thailand amid heavy firing. According to France 24’s Cyril Payen in Bangkok, “Our sources say at least six people have been killed and thirty injured on the Burmese side”
 
A Thai military official on the border, who also asked not to be named, said one rocket propelled grenade landed on the Thai side in Mae Sot, injuring several people.


  
Burma's own checkpoint on the other side of the river has been shut for several months, although many migrants cross the porous border illegally.
  
Zipporah Sein, Thailand-based general secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU), said skirmishes broke out between up to 300 Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) soldiers and the government army.
  
"We don't know definitely but I think last night the army sent over more troops, they negotiated and the DKBA retreated but this morning they were blocked by army trucks and then it started," she said.
  
She said the fighting was contained in the town but added that if it spilled into surrounding areas, up to 500 DKBA troops and 900 KNU soldiers could join the battle.
  

Last week the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), an exile media organisation, reported that six armed groups in Myanmar's troubled ethnic minority areas had agreed to help each other fight back if attacked by government forces.
  
The clash followed an armed demonstration by the rebels over Sunday's election as well as attempts to force ethnic minority troops to join a border guard force -- which would put them under state control.
  
The exact circumstances were unclear. Local DKBA commander Na Kham Mwe told the exile news website Irrawaddy that government troops opened fire first.
  
"More and more troops are being sent by the Burmese government. It seems they don't want to negotiate," he said, using Myanmar's former name.
  
A resident in Myawaddy said authorities had asked people to stay in their homes.
  
"We can hear shooting but we cannot see what is happening outside," he said.
  
A simmering civil war has wracked parts of the country since independence in 1948 and observers say the state's determination to crush ethnic rebels appeared to have increased as elections loomed.
  
Many groups have previously signed ceasefire agreements with the junta, but tensions have increased after the regime's attempts to bring ethnic armies under state control as "border guard forces" met with fierce resistance.
  
In the areas where civil war continues, rights groups have accused the junta of waging a brutal counter-insurgency campaign involving the rape, torture and murder of villagers whose homes are routinely destroyed.
  
The military has ruled the country since 1962 and the armed forces have doubled in size over the past two decades, to up to 400,000 personnel.
  
An offensive against ethnic Chinese Kokang rebels in the northeast in August 2009 caused tens of thousands of people to spill over the border, earning the junta a rare rebuke from China.
  
Burma's authorities scrapped voting in swathes of ethnic-minority areas in Sunday's election, citing security concerns.

Date created : 2010-11-08

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