Ethnic Armed Group Battling Myanmar’s Military Claims to Have Shot Down Army Helicopter

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(Photo: AP/PIXABAY)

BANGKOK (AP) — An ethnic minority armed group that is battling Myanmar’s military government said they shot down a helicopter believed to be on a resupply mission in a combat zone in the northern state of Kachin on 3 January.

The helicopter was shot down soon after taking off from an army outpost to return to its base in Myitkyina township, the state’s capital, around 11:50 am, Col. Naw Bu, a spokesperson for the Kachin Independence Army, told The Associated Press.

An independent online news outlet supportive of the resistance, Khit Thit Media, reported late Wednesday that six soldiers aboard the aircraft had been killed and one survived, but other reports said seven had died. Khit Thit also published photos of battered bodies in military uniforms and charred corpses, purportedly from the crash site.

Myanmar’s military, which came to power in February 2021 after seizing power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, has been battling pro-democracy resistance forces loosely allied with armed ethnic minority groups seeking greater autonomy.

There was no immediate comment from the military government about the helicopter claim, and The Associated Press was unable to contact any witnesses in the remote area. A spokesperson for Kachin Human Rights Watch, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Jacob, for fear of being arrested by the military, said the group’s members in the area had confirmed to him that a helicopter had crashed there.

Independent media sympathetic to the resistance movement also cited witnesses to the crash, and at least two videos circulating on social media showed an object apparently on fire and trailing black smoke making a steep and uncontrolled dive into a hilly area. The falling object was not readily identifiable. Whether it had been shot down or suffered mechanical failure could not be confirmed.

Naw Bu said the aircraft crashed near the Nahpaw army outpost, close to Nam San Yang village in Waing Maw township, which is about 390 kilometers (240 miles) northeast of Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city.

The military government has control of the airspace and frequently carries out bombing and strafing missions against which resistance forces have little effective defense. The raids frequently cause civilian casualties.

In October 2022, airstrikes killed as many as 80 people, including members of the Kachin Independence Army, guests, and entertainers at the group’s anniversary celebration in a remote mountainous area in Kachin’s Hpakant township.

About a year later, the military was accused of carrying out an airstrike that killed about 30 people, including about a dozen children, in a camp for displaced persons in Laiza, a town that also hosts the Kachin Independence Army headquarters.

The Kachin Independence Army, which is better armed and has more combat experience than other ethnic armed groups, in May 2021 claimed to have shot down another military helicopter.