Border troops primed for Myanmar vote-linked unrest

Border troops primed for Myanmar vote-linked unrest

Thai security authorities along the Myanmar border have been put on alert in preparation for any unexpected incidents or violence following the neighbouring country's election.

The Surasee Task Force of the 9th Infantry Division, responsible for the Thai-Myanmar border area in Kanchanaburi held a meeting with police, immigration, interior and health officers to prepare urgent measures in case of sudden occurrences in the border areas.

Disturbances took place after the November 2010 election when more than 10,000 Myanmar people moved across the border onto Thai soil to flee fighting there.

Authorities are concerned that if the National League for Democracy (NLD) Party of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi wins the election, fighting along the border might erupt due to dissatisfaction among some armed groups, a security source said.

The Three Pagoda border pass in Kanchanaburi's Sangkhla Buri district was closed to tourists yesterday while a border pass at Ban Nam Phu Ron in Muang district stayed open despite little activity.

Pol Col Weerayos Karunyathon, chief of Kanchanaburi's immigration police, said Thai officials were informed that only local people and transport vehicles would be allowed to go through the border pass on voting day.

So far the situation in Myanmar was normal and troops were seen patrolling the border area periodically.

But Thai security authorities and state agencies in the border districts had prepared a response plan in case of violence. The plan included evacuation of Thai and Myanmar people if violence broke out after the election and spilled across the border, Pol Col Weerayos said.

Thousands of Myanmar nationals in the border provinces yesterday flocked to their home country to cast ballots. Several of them were first-time voters after years of being left out of the election process.

In Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district opposite Tachilek town, last-minute voters showed up before dawn and lined up at a border checkpoint to apply for border pass documents.

The polls in Myanmar opened at 6am (6.30am Thai time) and closed at 4pm.

Mu Le, a 21-year-old Myanmar woman from Tachilek town, said it was her first election and she was determined to vote even though she knew little about politics or the voting process.

She said her friends and colleagues live in Thailand for work, but often have struggled to make a living here.

"It comes down to one thing — we want a political party that cares about the people's well-being to win the election," she said.

According to immigration officials, the Mae Sai-Tachilek checkpoint reported a boost of activity in the past few days ahead of the election. About 6,000-7,000 people had gone into Myanmar during the period, compared with 4,000-5,000 people on a regular basis.

Transport of goods to Myanmar also slowed down in the past week, said border authorities. It was believed migrant workers took days off to prepare for trips home.

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