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20,000 flee Myanmar fighting: Thai officials
Posted: 09 November 2010 1131 hrs

  A Thai soldier stands behind a wall near a Thai-Myanmar border.
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20,000 flee Myanmar fighting: Thai officials


MAE SOT, Thailand: About 20,000 people fled from Myanmar into Thailand to escape fighting between government troops and ethnic rebels following the military-ruled nation's first vote in 20 years, Thai officials said Tuesday.

At least three civilians were killed when heavy weapons fire hit the town of Myawaddy in Karen State, an official in Myanmar said. There was no information on any troop casualties on either side.

The violence erupted after an election on Sunday that was strongly criticised by the West because of widespread complaints of intimidation and the continued detention of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

More than 15,000 people had crossed into the Thai town of Mae Sot, fleeing fighting just across the border in Myawaddy, said Samard Loyfar, governor of Tak province in Thailand.

"But we are likely to repatriate them today," he said, adding he had heard reports suggesting the rebel groups had pulled out of Myawaddy.

A second pocket of unrest further south pushed some 5,000 people to seek refuge across the border on Monday, said district chief Jamras Srangnoi in Kanchanaburi in Thailand, but many had returned to their homes.

Zipporah Sein, the Thailand-based general secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU), said there had been fighting between government forces and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) troops in the two areas.

People in Myawaddy said fighting had subsided overnight with government troops pushing the rebel soldiers back into the forests.

One witness who has visited the town's hospital reported around 10 deaths.

"We heard the rebels just wanted to show their dissatisfaction with the election," one resident said.

A simmering civil war has wreaked parts of the country, including Karen State, since independence in 1948 and observers say the junta's determination to crush ethnic minority rebels appears to have strengthened.

The Myawaddy clash followed an armed demonstration by the rebels in the town 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.

Last week the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), an exiled 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.

Many groups have previously signed ceasefire agreements with the ruling party, but tensions have increased, with fierce resistance to the government's border guard force plan.




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