YANGON, Myanmar – Fighting between ethnic rebels and government troops rumbled on for a third day today as activists warned that the violence, which has sparked a refugee exodus from Myanmar, could escalate in the aftermath of contentious elections.
Clashes at key points along the Thai-Myanmar border since Sunday have sent some 15,000 panicked villagers into Thailand, which already shelters a quarter-million ethnic minority refugees from brutal campaigns by the Myanmar army.
The exodus underlined Myanmar’s vulnerability to unrest following the country’s first election in two decades on Sunday, which were billed by the ruling junta as a key stage in its self-proclaimed road to democracy. Its political opponents and Western nations have decried the vote as unfair and repressive.
President Barack Obama said Monday it was unacceptable for Myanmar’s government to “steal an election” and hold its people’s aspirations hostage to the regime’s greed and paranoia.
For a third day, sporadic gunfire erupted in Myawaddy this morning but refugees told Thai officials that government forces had retaken the Myanmar border town and that the fighting was likely to end, the governor of the Thai province of Tak which lies opposite, Samard Loyfar, told the Associated Press.
Sunday’s election was the first in Myanmar, also known as Burma, since a 1990 vote won by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, which was barred from taking power and boycotted the new polls.