Weather: Sydney 18°C - 24°C . Chance of storms. Showers.

Burma refugees pour over Thai border as fighting breaks out

Burma opposition

Burmese citizens who fled fighting between Karen and Burmese soldiers gather in Mae Sot town, under the eye of a Thai border guard yesterday. Picture: AP Source: The Australian

THOUSANDS of Burmese and Karen refugees are streaming across the "Friendship Bridge" between Burma and Thailand.

This comes after the Burmese army shelled key positions held by Karen fighters early yesterday.

At least 6000 refugees had arrived by early afternoon, and 15,000 had arrived by nightfall.

They were a pitiful sight - men, women and children carrying what they could bring with them, hurrying in panic as the sound of gunfire echoed over the monsoon-flooded River Moei separating the two countries.

The refugees were fleeing after the Burmese military pounded positions taken by fighters of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, a militia group formerly aligned to the Rangoon junta.

The DKBA commander Saw La Pwe (aka Nakhamway) claimed in a telephone interview yesterday that his fighters had taken key installations and captured eight Burmese soldiers, including two majors.

Major General Saw La Pwe said he was fighting on behalf of all the ethnic people of Burma, and called on the international community to intervene.

"We are doing it for all the people of Burma," he said. "The election is not free and fair and we want to tell the world, and they can come and help solve this problem."

At least three people were killed and 20 injured, including children, when the Burmese first shelled a market in the town of Myawaddy, just across the river from Mae Sot.

The Mae Tao Clinic, run by leading Karen refugee doctor Cynthia Maung, was bracing for the arrival of the injured.

"Most of the seriously wounded will go to Mae Sot Hospital," said a medic at the clinic.

"We will do what we can for the sick, including children and pregnant women."

Across the river, more than 100 wounded were reported in Myawaddy hospital, and the hospital director's wife was said to have fled to Thailand.

A village health worker in Myawaddy said the fighting was still going on.

"We have wounded here, but we're not sure how to get them across the border."

The Karen are one of Burma's main ethnic minorities, and have waged a long campaign for autonomy against the military regime based in Naypyidaw, the junta's official capital. They are estimated to number more than eight million.

The fighting on the border is being led by the DKBA, a faction of the resistance movement formerly linked to the junta but now in dispute with the generals.

Since Sunday, the DKBA fighters have overrun key Burmese positions in Myawaddy and on the Friendship Bridge, including the police station, the communications office and a military security unit.

They also claim to have taken the border town of Three Pagodas Pass, helped by allies in the Mon ethnic army.

"We are packing to leave," a villager told a Karen reporter. "We're getting ready to run."


Converted masonic hall


Ever dreamed of converting a masonic hall into a "poetic" house? You'll need lots of money...