11/09/2010, 00.00
MYANMAR-THAILAND
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Twenty thousand Burmese refugees flee fighting on Thai border

by Weena Kowitwanij
Karen rebels are fighting the army, to express dissatisfaction with sham elections. The Thai army has prepared refugee camps, but promises repatriation within three months. According to military sources, the repatriation began today, although renewed fighting is feared.

Bangkok (AsiaNews) - About 20 thousand people have crossed the Thai border to escape fighting between the army and the Karen minority of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, an ethnic military organization.

The clashes occurred just across the border in Tak and Kanchaburi, killing at least three people and injuring 10 Thai. The clashes erupted yesterday, a day after the sham elections organized by the Burmese junta, the results of which are predictable.

Samart Loyfah, governor of the Thai province of Tak, said that "the clashes occurred 100-200 meters from the border with Thailand. Burmese women and children are fleeing to Thailand to find safety and shelter. The Thai military forces have developed some refugee camps for humanitarian reasons".

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, in an interview from government buildings stated that "Thailand will take care of Burmese immigrants and will bring them back at the appropriate time." He however expressed concern that there may be many more clashes on the border in Myanmar until the new government is formed, a process that could take up to three months. Voices from the army, however, argue the repatriation of refugees is already taking place.

According to Thai general Wanthip Wongwai covering Tak Province, groups of KNU Karen attacked government forces in Myawaddy. The army responded with the launch of M79 grenades, which wounded at least 10 people.

Some locals claim that the rebels wanted to express their dissatisfaction with the junta and the elections, constructed in such a way as to guarantee victory to the parties related to the military. Many ethnic areas were even excluded from voting for "security reasons". Just today, results relayed by figures linked to the Burmese junta claimed a victory of 80 percent of the seats.

For decades, the central government has been battling against dozens of Burmese ethnic groups, who accuse it of neglecting their development, while exploiting them as a labour force and recruiting their young people into the army.

Some ethnic groups have signed the cease-fire with the government, but others have decided to continue their fight.

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