Burma clashes: 30 dead as fighting continues
Rebel armies fail to link up in bid to tackle Burmese forces after sham election
Burmese rebel hopes of creating a united front to tackle regime forces on the battlefield received a setback on Tuesday when the legendary commander of the ethnic army in southern Shan State said his 7,000 men couldn't be spared at this time to help Karen forces pinned down 100 miles south on the Thai-Burmese border.
The Karen soldiers - of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army's crack 5th Brigade - were desperately trying to hold on to regime positions they conquered in fierce fighting which began as polls closed on Sunday in Burma's sham election.
Claims by Thai authorities that the fighting had died down in the Burmese border town of Myawaddy were disputed by observers in nearby border areas of Thailand, where gunfire and explosions were still echoing in the mountains on Tuesday morning. At least 30 soldiers and civilians have died so far in the fighting.
Refugees continue to flood into Thailand, and aid organisations in the Thai border town of Mae Sot say they are now trying to care for at least 20,000. Thailand, meanwhile, says it is preparing to repatriate the refugees because the situation appears to be safe for them to return.
"Total nonsense," said an Oxfam worker. "If they return now it's a death sentence."
Refugees have also been pouring over the Burmese-Thai border at the Three Pagodas Pass, 120 miles south of Myawaddy. Reports from the Three Pagodas Pass township said half its population of 70,000 had fled, many into the jungle that covers the mountains of this remote, picturesque region of Burma and Thailand.
DKBA forces who occupied most of the Three Pagodas Pass township on Monday are reported to be successfully holding onto their gains on Tuesday.
The Three Pagodas Pass leads into Burma's Mon State, where the ethnic Mon also have a small standing army, but no word has been heard from its leadership.
The Mon and the Shan were among seven armed ethnic ceasefire groups that agreed recently to form a mutual defence alliance, with the aim of toppling what is now expected to be a military-controlled government following Sunday's fixed election.
The Shan State Army-South commander, Lt-Gen Yawd Serk - a battle-scarred military hero in Burma's Shan State and a feared foe of Burma's military junta - said his men were too involved in daily skirmishes with the Burmese Army to go to the aid of the Karen. But that decision might be reviewed later, he said.
Burma's ethnic groups are united by a shared opposition to a demand by the military rulers to disband their armies and join a planned 'border guard force', under Burmese Army command.
Sunday's election, in which the regime-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party claims it won up to an entirely fictitious 80 per cent of the vote, has stiffened ethnic opposition to the generals who will now continue to hold power in Burma.