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Burma Excludes Thousands From Voting in Elections

Burma's military government says it will not open polling stations in several eastern border townships for the November elections.

Burma's election commission says voting has been cancelled in several townships in Kachin, Kayin, Mon and Shan states, as well as townships in the Wa self-administered region.

Debbie Stothardt is the spokeswoman for the rights group, the Alternative ASEAN Network. She says the plans show the government intends to disenfranchise ethnic groups that do not want the military to remain in charge.

"It's an extremely bad sign that this election may actively intensify the root causes of conflict in Burma instead of trying to create some space for reconciliation," Stothardt said.

The November 7 election will be the country's first in 20 years. But under the 2008 constitution, a quarter of the parliament's seats will be reserved for the military, which has ruled the country for nearly 50 years.

Thwin Linn Aung, with the Forum for Democracy in Burma, says the exclusion of the communities also reflects the resistance of several ethnic armies to the government's plan to convert them into border guards.

"The problem in the ethnic area, [the military} cannot control because most of the ethnic groups - they refuse to join the border force. So to avoid this problem they cannot have full control, so to avoid this problem there won't be the election there won't be the booths, there won't be the polling in these areas," Thwin said.

In August, ethnic Mon forces in Kayin State transformed into border guards, as have several other ethnic armies.

But others militias have resisted doing so and threaten to fight if the central government pressures them.

For decades, more than 20 different ethnic groups fought Burma's central government. But in the 15 years, several of them signed peace agreements. The peace has been fragile and Burma continues to battle other groups.

Burma's government says the November elections will fair, but human rights groups and several Western countries say the vote is a sham and part of plans by the military to extend its rule.

The leading opposition group, the National League for Democracy, is not taking part in the election because of laws that required it to kick out many of its members, including leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest.