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Myanmar Clashes Ebb as Officials Set to Free Suu Kyi

A Thai border policeman stands guard as Myanmar refugees sit in a temporary camp. Photographer: Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images
A Thai border policeman stands guard as Myanmar refugees sit in a temporary camp. Photographer: Pornchai Kittiwongsakul/AFP/Getty Images

Nov. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Thousands of people who fled election violence have returned to Myanmar, where Agence France-Presse reported officials are preparing to release detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

About 20,000 people fled across the border to Thailand on Nov. 8 as troops clashed with the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, one of more than 30 ethnic armies based in Myanmar. The violence was sparked by the nation’s Nov. 7 election, which was won by a party backed by the junta and criticized for excluding Suu Kyi and about 2,100 other political prisoners.

“The situation has been calm without new clashes,” Samard Loyfar, governor of Thailand’s Tak province, said by phone today. “There are no Myanmar people left in Thailand after 700 of them returned home this morning.”

Ethnic unrest may complicate Myanmar’s attempts to set up its first multiparty parliament since 1962. Rival military factions are vying to control the legislature and nominees for a new president to ensure the ruling generals maintain their grip on power as 22 years of direct military rule comes to an end.

Preparations are under way for the possible release of Suu Kyi this weekend, AFP said, citing an unidentified government official. Suu Kyi, 65, is scheduled to be released on Nov. 13.

“We haven’t got any instruction from superiors for her release yet,” the unidentified official told AFP. “But we are preparing security plans for Nov. 13.”

‘Soon as Possible’

Suu Kyi will visit supporters around the country “as soon as possible” if she’s freed, Win Tin, a senior member of her party, said from Yangon on Nov. 7. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been detained for 15 of the past 21 years, with her latest house arrest starting in 2003.

In August 2009, a court sentenced Suu Kyi to three years with hard labor for violating her detention order. The sentence was immediately commuted to 18 months of house arrest, which may have begun in May 2009, when her previous detention term expired.

Myanmar’s counterparts in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have engaged the junta in a bid to bring about change, declining to follow the U.S. and Europe in placing economic sanctions on the regime.

The country’s strategic location between China, India and Thailand has drawn investment from its neighbors eager to capitalize on its natural resources.

‘Utter Sham’

U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg condemned the vote and called for the release of Suu Kyi during the weekly question-and-answer session in the House of Commons in London.

The polls “were a complete and utter sham. The conclusions of those elections were in place before they even began,” Clegg told lawmakers. “They are simply swapping their military uniforms for civilian clothing and keeping their iron grip on the people of Burma.”

In Thailand, gunfire could still be heard today near the Myanmar border in Kanchanaburi province, Sittichai Phaophan, an official in charge of security, said by phone. About 3,500 people returned to Myanmar from Kanchanaburi, though they may cross the border again if the fighting intensifies, he said.

Thailand anticipates more attacks until Myanmar’s new government is established, a process that may take three months, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday. People who cross the border into Thailand will be treated humanely, he said.

The DKBA is among ethnic armies resisting government efforts to turn them into border guards, as mandated by the 2008 constitution under which the elections were held. About a third of the country’s 55 million people belong to ethnic minorities, and occupy roughly half of total land area, according to the International Crisis Group.

The skirmishes started when troops moved to reclaim parts of the Myawaddy border crossing from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army a day after the election. Tak, Thailand’s fourth-largest province by area, sits adjacent to Myawaddy.

To contact the reporter on this story: Supunnabul Suwannakij in Bangkok at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tony Jordan at

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