Thousands flee Myanmar after clashes at Thai border

November 8th, 2010 - 8:47 pm ICT by BNO News  

BANGKOK (BNO NEWS) — Several people were killed in eastern Myanmar on Monday after a heavy gun battle that erupted between Karen rebels and the country’s army, a day after the nation held its first elections in 20 years.

According to local media, around 300 rebels from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army attacked Myawaddy city in Karen State, near the border with Thailand. A rocket also struck the Thai city of Mae Scot, injuring several people.

As rebels seized key government offices in Myawaddy, killing at least several people, as many as 10,000 refugees fled into Thailand where they will be taken to refugee camps.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva called the clashes an internal problem for Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, and said that ‘there will probably be more fighting over the next three months.’

“The Myanmar authorities told me during my visit to the country that they still need to close the border due to concerns over anti-Myanmar government minority groups at the Mae Sot border,” Abhisit said.

According to local officials, Thailand is prepared to receive several thousands of refugees “in accordance with human rights principles” until the situation returns to normal.

On Sunday, some 29 million people were allowed to vote at 40,000 polling stations across Myanmar in what was the nation’s first election in 20 years.

Polls in the multi-party election opened at dawn and closed at 4 p.m. local time, with no reports of violence or other notable incidents, but the international community has condemned the election as a fraud.

“The November 7 elections in Burma were neither free nor fair, and failed to meet any of the internationally accepted standards associated with legitimate elections,” said U.S. President Barack Obama. “The elections were based on a fundamentally flawed process and demonstrated the regime’s continued preference for repression and restriction over inclusion and transparency.”

There were over 3,000 candidates from 37 parties in Sunday’s election, but with thousands of possible candidates held under house arrest or in prison, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party are widely seen as the favorites to take power.

“One of the starkest flaws of this exercise was the regime’s continued detention of more than 2,100 political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, thereby denying them any opportunity to participate in the process,” Obama criticized and referring to Kyi, who previously won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Obama said: “The unfair electoral laws and overtly partisan Election Commission ensured that Burma’s leading pro-democracy party, the National League for Democracy, was silenced and sidelined. The regime denied the registration of certain ethnic parties, cancelled elections in numerous ethnic areas, and stage-managed the campaign process to ensure that pro-democracy and opposition candidates who did compete faced insurmountable obstacles.”

Obama said that elections cannot be credible when the military regime rejects dialogue with opponents and represses basic freedoms of expression, speech and assembly.

“We will monitor the situation in Burma closely in the weeks and months ahead,” the U.S. President added. “The United States will continue to implement a strategy of pressure and engagement in accordance with conditions on the ground in Burma and the actions of the Burmese authorities.”

Obama further called upon the Myanmar government to free Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners immediately and unconditionally, cease alleged systematic violations of human rights, begin to hold human rights violators accountable, and welcome pro-democracy and ethnic minority groups into a ‘long-overdue’ dialogue.

“Only genuine, inclusive dialogue can place Burma on the path to a truly representative democracy which upholds human rights and builds a better future for its citizens,” Obama concluded.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also criticized the government, saying the United States was ‘deeply disappointed.’ “The generals who have ruled the country for the past 22 years missed an opportunity to begin genuine transition toward democratic governance and national reconciliation,” Clinton said. “The electoral process was severely flawed, precluded an inclusive, level playing field, and repressed fundamental freedoms.”

Also the United Kingdom expressed its concern over the elections. “We know the result of these elections is already a foregone conclusion,” said UK Foreign Secretary William Hague. “They will not be free, fair or inclusive. More than 2,100 political prisoners remain incarcerated, opposition and ethnic parties have been refused the right to stand and a quarter of the seats are already reserved for the military.”

Hague said holding ‘flawed’ elections does not represent progress, as the Myanmar government had claimed the elections were a switch to democracy. “For the people of Burma, it will mean the return to power of a brutal regime that has pillaged the nation’s resources and overseen widespread human rights abuses, including arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, rape and torture.”

It is not yet clear when election results will be released by the Myanmar government, which has only said they will come ‘in time.’

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