Thousands flee Burma as army launches attack on ethnic rebels

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The Independent Online

Fighting between Burmese troops and ethnic rebels sent at least 10,000 refugees spilling across the border into Thailand as the country's controversial election received further condemnation for being rigged and unfair.

More than 10 people were injured as firing between government troops and members of the rebel Democratic Karen Buddhist Army sent bullets flying on both sides of the border. Karen rebels said they had moved in to occupy Myawaddy Town, on the Thai border, to protect people it said had been threatened by the Burmese army to vote for the pro-regime Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). While clashes were intense during the day, Thai officials said the gunfire had died down by yesterday evening.

Groups representing ethnic minorities who make up some 40 per cent of the population had warned that civil war could erupt if the military tries to impose its highly centralised constitution and deprive them of rights.

Official results from Sunday's elections were kept under wraps yesterday, but political parties and independent monitors gave their own accounts of the poll, using word of mouth, text messages and Facebook to update vote tallies and report intimidation and irregularities that will further undermine the ruling junta's claims of a free and fair vote.

Not surprisingly, the USDP was heading for victory in a poll widely dismissed by Western leaders as a sham. But Facebook posts also revealed a strong showing for the opposition National Democratic Force (NDF), which broke away from the party of democracy torchbearer Aung San Suu Kyi to run.

Despite access to seemingly unlimited state resources for its campaign, the USDP still resorted to voter intimidation and coercion to ensure victory, according to independent monitors.