Yangon: Deadly clashes erupted between Myanmar government troops and ethnic minority rebels, prompting an exodus across the border in the wake of an election that the junta`s proxies looked sure to win.
At least three civilians were killed when heavy weapons fire hit the town of Myawaddy in Karen State, an official in the military-ruled country said. There was no information on any troop casualties on either side.
Clashes were also reported further south near Myanmar`s Three Pagodas Pass.
Zipporah Sein, the Thailand-based general secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU), said there had been fighting between government forces and Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) troops in the two areas.
"I don`t think the DKBA will surrender," she added.
About 10,000 people fled across the frontier to neighbouring Thailand, including many women and children, said Samart Loyfah, the governor of Thailand`s Tak province on the border.
A simmering civil war has wracked parts of the country, including Karen State, since independence in 1948 and observers say the junta`s determination to crush ethnic minority rebels appears to have strengthened.
One resident in Myawaddy reported numerous explosions and general panic.
"People are running here and there -- it`s desperate. We could be killed at any time, this is very scary," he said.
The violence came a day after an election that was strongly criticised by the West because of widespread complaints of intimidation and the detention of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.
Pro-democracy parties which participated in the poll complained Monday of "cheating" at polling booths, saying it had dimmed their earlier hopes of winning seats.
"It`s very different from our expectation because of foul play," said Than Nyein, chairman of the National Democratic Force, created by former members of Suu Kyi`s party, which boycotted the vote and was disbanded.
"We have our evidence. Some candidates complained... because there was vote cheating," he told AFP.
Thu Wai, chairman of the Democratic Party, also said the results would be worse than expected, "not only because of the advance votes, but also because we didn`t have representatives at every polling station".
Many areas were not even contested by pro-democracy candidates because of major financial and other hurdles.
A senior government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said voter turnout was estimated at more than 60 percent but the results from the whole country could take one week.
With 25 percent of the seats in parliament reserved for military appointees whatever the outcome, the two main pro-junta parties needed to win just another 26 percent from the elected seats to secure a majority.
Despite the regime`s unpopularity its political proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), was expected to fare well, helped by huge financial and campaigning advantages as well as a climate of fear.
In many constituencies the poll was a two-way battle between the USDP and the National Unity Party (NUP), which is the successor to late dictator Ne Win`s party and also closely aligned with the military.