Some voters at gunpoint (Photo courtesy of Radio Liberty/AFP)
By Joseph Juhn
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
YANGON, Myanmar – A day after the historic elections held for the first time in twenty years in Myanmar, thousands of new refugees fled into Northern Thailand on Monday. The fighting broke out between the Myanmar Army and ethnic rebels. Although the election was disguised as a movement towards democracy, it has been widely denounced by the international community as fraudulent, with citizens not having the freedom to vote correctly.
The International Organization for Migration and the UNHCR (High Commissioner for Refugees) says that “the fighting between the Myanmar military and an ethnic minority armed group, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), following the Myanmar elections on Sunday, resulted in an estimated 12,000 people fleeing into Thailand at the Mae Sot and Three Pagoda Pass border crossing points.”
UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, said refugees started to cross the border early Monday on foot and on inner tubes across the Moei River. According to Mahecic, many of the refugees testified that they fled because they were afraid for their lives after their houses were attacked while other said they fled the sound of fighting.
”Many collected their children from school and fled to Thailand with only the clothes on their back, some even barefoot,” said Mahecic. “At first, only women and children were crossing, but later in the day more men arrived. Among the new arrivals are mothers with newborn babies as young as five days and 15 days.”
A government election has not been held in Myanmar since 1990 when leader of the National League for Democracy Party (NDL), Daw Aung San Suu Kyi won with 60 percent of the popularity vote. However, it didn’t take too long until the military intervened and denied her power and continues to hold her in custody to this day.
Many unsung heroes demanded the return of their civil and political rights, which have been denied by the military-led government for more than 26 years. However, the government often resorted to violent repression to deal with its citizens’ demands for freedom, and it is estimated that more than 10,000 citizens have died in the process.
This led to thousands of refugees fleeing the military junta for survival and personal freedom. One of the countries that has housed these refugees is India. This past week, when US President Barack Obama paid a diplomatic visit to India, he mildly rebuked India for its diplomatic silence on Junta rule.
” When peaceful democratic movements are suppressed, as they have been in Burma (Myanmar), then the democracies of the world cannot remain silent,” President Obama said.
At least 7000 refugees have fled Myanmar in the past 22 years and are now residing in parts of India, where they still face problems. Living conditions are poor but what is worse for refugees is witnessing India’s reluctance to oppose the military Junta back home.
”My heart aches, but my mind accepts the truth,” says Htay, Burmese refugee now living in Janakpuri. So many seek refuge in other countries. Nyuant Mungpi who has settled down in India three years ago says he was disappointed to see the daily grind here.
”Most Burmese in India want the UNHCR to recognise our refugee status. We want to go to the US, Canada or Australia. There is very little recognition for us, unlike the Tibetans.” says Mungpi.
For more information, please see:
VoA News – Thousands of Burmese Flee Following Elections, Fighting – 9 November 2010
The Times of India – They want India to speak up – 12 November 2010
Geneva Lunch – Burma/Myanmar refugees flooding Thailand – 11 November 2010
Pacific.Scoop – Burma’s elections highlight cruel tale of repression by junta – 9 November 2010