msnbc.com news services
updated 11/4/2010 11:45:36 AM ET 2010-11-04T15:45:36

A massive cyber attack has cut Internet connectivity in Myanmar, just three days before the nation's first election in 20 years.

Web users had reported slow connections and occasional outages for more than a week, but by Thursday, network traffic was completely halted, the BBC reported. Web service providers said outside attackers were to blame, but some residents suspected the military-ruled nation's government was behind the troubles.

"I think they have been doing it intentionally for the election day to delay news from reaching the international community," Kyaw Kyaw, a 25-year-old university student in the main city of Yangon, told Agence-France Presse.

No foreign journalists have been allowed into Myanmar to cover the polls, which Western governments have criticized as a ploy to perpetuate the military's grip on power. On Thursday, British ambassador Andrew Heyn said the vote was a "badly missed opportunity" that offered no hope for democratic change in the near future.

There was no estimate on when Web service would be restored, a technician from web provider RedLink Communications Co. told the AFP.

The nation's Internet system was toppled by a blitz of data called a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, experts said. The gigabits of traffic flooding Myanmar's connections was "several hundred times more than enough" to swamp them, wrote Dr. Craig Labovitz from web security company Arbor Networks.

Labovitz did not know the motivation for the attack, which he said was a sophisticated combination of several different types of DDoS attacks from various sources.

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A history of cyber attacks
This isn't the first time Myanmar's Internet has been crippled during politically sensitive times. In September, on the third anniversary of a crackdown on monk-led protests, a DDos attack toppled exile media organizations' websites. Connectivity also slowed on the anniversary of an Aug. 8, 1988 mass uprising.

With increasing tension, the government has canceled voting in 3,400 villages in ethnic areas and has increased its military presence in the countryside.

Ethnic minorities make up some 40 percent of the country's 56 million people and could field a formidable force together. But past attempts to unify have largely failed.

On Thursday, six armed ethnic groups announced they had joined forces , fearing the government would wage war against them after Sunday's election, reported an exile news agency.

Britain, the United States and the EU have long maintained economic sanctions against Myanmar to pressure the military government to improve human rights and release detained Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, along with 2,100 other political prisoners.

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Britain and others in the international community say that harsh restrictions on campaigning, the repression of Suu Kyi's opposition party and the new constitution reflect the military's intention to continue its commanding role. The military has ruled Myanmar, earlier known as Burma, since 1962.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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