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Thousands Flee Post-Election Fighting in Burma

Burmese citizens line up for food at the Border Patrol Police base in Thailand's Mae Sot town following fighting between Myanmar soldiers and ethnic Karen fighters, 08 Nov. 2010.

Thousands of people in eastern Burma have fled into neighboring Thailand to escape fighting between an ethnic militia and the Burmese military that erupted just one day after the military-ruled country's first elections in 20 years - dismissed by critics as a sham.

At least 3,000 people poured over Burma's eastern border into Mae Sot, Thailand, on Monday, after members of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army and Burma's military clashed in the town of Myawaddy, just across from Mae Sot.

Hundreds of the men, women, and children crossed over the Moei River dividing the two countries and were given refuge in a Buddhist temple.

Bamyar Htaw lives in Myawaddy, but says he crossed over from Burma after hearing gunfire and seeing a man on a motorcycle get shot. Burmese soldiers do not like the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, he says, so that is why they exchanged gunfire. He adds that he no longer feels safe to live there.

Casualty figures on the Burmese side of the border could not be confirmed. Violence also spilled over to the Thai side.

Gunfire and rocket propelled grenades [RPGs} were shot from Burma into Mae Sot, causing several casualties.

At least one grenade hit a shop near the Thai-Burma Friendship Bridge. Blood stains spattered the floor and sidewalk. A truck parked out front was damaged and the lifeless body of a dog lay nearby.

Thai military and police increased security along the border, cutting off traffic and moving the public from the area. Heavily armed Thai soldiers set up maps near the bridge, and discussed options for retaliation if there were more attacks.

Border Patrol Police Officer, Captain Winyoo Pornpratoom says there were at least three RPGs fired from Burma into Thailand, including one that hit a school.

In the morning, he says, he got a report from a teacher at the Huay Muang school that there was an RPG that landed on the roof. He says he found parts of the RPG that exploded into five pieces. Initially, he says, it did not work properly and no one got hurt.

Thai security later walked thousands of people fleeing the fighting to a border police bureau. Authorities erected large canvas tents to shield them from the hot sun and brought in water and food.

The fighting began Sunday, as military-ruled Burma held its first elections in two decades.

The government says the vote is part of a plan to return the country to civilian rule, but critics say it was engineered to keep the military in power. The Burmese army says it must retain a significant role in the government to keep various ethnic minority militias from trying to divide the country.

Some of the militias are resisting government demands to join a national border guard.