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Clashes break out after Burma poll

Fighting between ethnic minority rebels and Burmese government troops has sent at least 15,000 refugees fleeing into Thailand after a widely criticised election expected to usher in a parliament sympathetic to the military regime.

Fighting raged at key border points, wounding at least 10 people on both sides of the border as stray shots fell into Thailand.

The clashes underlined Burma's vulnerability to unrest even as it passes through a key stage of the ruling junta's self-proclaimed "road map to democracy."

The country has been under virtually continuous military rule since 1962, and has faced rebellions by its ethnic minorities since before obtaining independence from Britain in 1948.

In the heaviest clashes, Karen rebels reportedly seized a police station and post office in the border town of Myawaddy.

More fighting broke out further south at the Three Pagodas Pass, said Thai official Chamras Jungnoi, but there was no word on any casualties.

Thai officials said later that fighting had died down and government troops had regained control of Myawaddy.

Tens of thousands of ethnic Karen villagers who have fled decades of fighting in the border regions already shelter in refugee camps on the Thai side of the frontier, but the newcomers were expected to return home.

It was the biggest one-day tide of refugees to flee into Thailand in recent years. Refugees continued to arrive, and some independent estimates put their number closer to 20,000.

"At least 15,000 refugees have crossed from eastern Burma into northern Thailand since this morning," said Andrej Mahecic, spokesman for the UN's refugee agency, which was providing tents and other materials to shelter the refugees. Non-governmental groups also were offering aid.

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