In order to escape clashes between troops and ethnic Karen rebels, thousands have fled across the Burmese border (photo, from aljazeera.net). The violence followed the first election in 20 years.
According to Thai officials more than 10,000 people, mostly women and children, have fled the fierce fighting in and around the town of Myawaddy, which erupted on Sunday in a protest linked to the election.
The main opposition group boycotted the poll, which was marred by campaign restrictions, reports of irregularities and low turnout.
Voting conditions have been “insufficiently inclusive, participatory and transparent”, said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
In a statement, he called on the ruling generals to turn the poll into a “a new beginning” by freeing Aung San Suu Kyi and more than 2,000 political prisoners.
Although votes are still being counted, two parties closely linked to the ruling military junta are expected to do well.
It was the first poll in Burma since 1990, when Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy secured an overwhelming victory but was never allowed to take power.
Though the junta says the election marks the transition from military rule to a civilian democracy, the poll has been widely condemned as a sham. Western governments say it was neither free nor fair.
In spite of all this, some analysts say the deeply flawed election could mark the start of a process of democratisation, by giving opposition lawmakers a voice, however limited, in the institutional decision-making process.
But on Monday, in the town of Myawaddy, on the Thai border (map, from bbcimg.co.uk), tensions surrounding the poll turned into violence. Government troops clashed with a Karen rebel faction.
In Burma, ethnic groups have been demanding greater regional autonomy from the majority Burman-led central government since independence from Britain in 1948. Many have suffered persecution at the hands of the government.
A police station and polling booth was briefly occupied on Sunday by a splinter group of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, known as Brigade 5. The aim of that move was to show their opposition to the government’s plan to incorporate ethnic armies into a centrally-controlled border force.
In response, Burmese government troops gathered and clashes broke out early on Monday.
Stray shells were reported to have landed on the Thai side of the border, injuring at least eight people, and unconfirmed reports of deaths.
Clashes have now spread further south to the Three Pagodas Pass and the Thai army says it is sending reinforcements to the area.
“Army, police and civil authorities have prepared an area to accommodate them 5km (three miles) from the border,” said Samart Loyfah, governor of Thailand’s Tak province.
For now it is not clear when election results will be released.
The poll was described as a successful, smoothly-run process, by Burma’s state-run media.
Voters were electing candidates to a two-chamber parliament and 14 regional assemblies. But more than two-thirds of the 3,000 candidates were running for two parties closely linked to the military junta.
Turnout for the election was reportedly low.
The polls were boycotted by the NLD and party leader Suu Kyi, still under house arrest, saying election laws were unfair.
The new constitution reserves more than a quarter of seats in the new parliament for the army and recently dozens of senior officers “retired” in order to stand for the government-approved Union Solidarity and Development Party, which is by far the strongest party.
Put together, these two groups will likely have an effective veto over legislation.
The conduct of the election has been criticised by Western nations : US President Barack Obama said it had not met “internationally accepted standards”, while the UK said the results were “a foregone conclusion”.