Thousands flee Myanmar after historic election turns violent




Photograph by: Chaiwat Subprasom, Reuters

OTTAWA — Canada is being called on to send supplies for the thousands of refugees who have already streamed across the border to Thailand from Myanmar, escaping the violence that erupted after the country held its first election in two decades.

As of Monday evening, 30,000 to 50,000 refugees fled Myanmar — also known as Burma — after the conflict broke out between the Burmese military regime and ethnic rebels, said Tin Maung Htoo, director of Canadian Friends of Burma, an organization that supports the pro-democracy movement for Myanmar.

The fighting is extending to several areas along the Myanmar-Thai border, including in the south, near Three Pagodas Pass.

“There will be more people taking shelter and taking refuge in Thailand,” said Htoo, shortly after meeting with officials from Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs.

“We need Canada to respond to this situation. People just left . . . they didn’t have the chance to bring any belongings, they just ran away with nothing. People need some accommodations and sleeping mats and sleeping bags.”

Htoo said he asked that the Canadian embassy in Bangkok be charged with assessing the situation on the ground and reporting back to the ministry here.

The Canadian government on Monday denounced the Myanmar election, calling the process flawed and unfair.

“Canada repeatedly called on the Burmese regime to conduct a free, fair, inclusive and transparent electoral process in line with international standards and democratic principles,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon said in a statement. “Canada is deeply disappointed that the regime did not live up to its own commitment to hold a free and fair election.”

Cannon said the government would not consider the election to be credible without the unconditional release of all political prisoners — including imprisoned Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi — and genuine dialogue with members of the opposition and ethnic groups in Myanmar.

Leading up to the election, groups from Myanmar’s ethnic minorities said there could be retaliation if the electoral process wasn’t open and fair.

Almost immediately after the polls closed Sunday, there was apparent breakdown of the 15-year ceasefire between the Burmese military regime and the militia of the Karen ethnic minority, with critics saying the election was a farce.

Whatever the results of the election, they say, the military will continue to rule Myanmar, as it has since 1962.

The Canadian government said it is calling for a “transition to genuine democracy in Burma, rather than to a political facade aimed at legitimizing the status quo.”

Cannon added that the people of Myanmar “have every right to expect a fully civilian, legitimate, accountable system of government.”

But issuing a written wag-of-the-finger isn’t enough, said Htoo.

“The conflict is spreading,” he said. “It will continue to spread to other parts of the country . . . The people really need the assistance.”



Photograph by: Chaiwat Subprasom, Reuters


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