San Francisco Chronicle

Ethnic rebels say they shot down junta helicopter

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BANGKOK — An ethnic rebel group in northern Myanmar claims they shot down a government military helicopter on Monday during heavy fighting over a strategic position.

The claim by the Kachin Independen­ce Army came as protests against Myanmar’s military government continued in Kachin State and elsewhere in the country. It would be the first aircraft shot down during recent hostilitie­s between the government and ethnic guerrilla armies. There was no immediate comment by the government on the incident.

The Kachin are one of several ethnic minorities who have allied themselves with the nationwide protest movement against the military’s February ouster of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was arrested and remains in detention. The country’s ethnic minorities have been fighting for decades against the central government for greater autonomy.

Government offensives are under way against the Kachin and the Karen, another ethnic minority in eastern Myanmar that maintains its own armed force and also has been the target of air strikes. The fighting in Kachin and Karen states has displaced more than 45,000 villagers.

Col. Naw Bu, a spokesman for the Kachin Independen­ce Army, said his group’s fighters shot down the aircraft after government forces used helicopter­s and jets in an attack on Momauk township, where the Kachin seized a base at the foot of Alaw Bum mountain from the government on March 25.

A video on social media said to be of the helicopter shows an aircraft diving as the sounds of heavy weapons are heard. As the helicopter continues a steep descent, it appears to catch fire and leaves a trail of smoke. The video, and another taken from a distance showing smoke from what was said to be the crash site, could not be independen­tly verified.

Naw Bu said it was the first aircraft shot down in what has become a fierce battle lasting almost two weeks after the government attacked with heavy artillery and fighter jets.

“Good news! Our prayer has been answered. KIA shot down a terrorist’s helicopter,” Hkanhpa Sadan, foreign secretary of the guerrilla army’s affiliated Kachin National Organizati­on, said on Twitter. Opponents of the military government routinely refer to its forces as “terrorists.”

The ruling junta continues to also face a challenge in the cities and towns of Myanmar, where street protests are still being held more than three months after it seized power.

Security forces often use lethal force to break up the protests. The Assistance Associatio­n for Political Prisoners, which tracks deaths and arrests, said at least five civilians were killed Sunday on what protesters declared was Global Myanmar Spring Revolution Day. In all, the organizati­on said security forces have now killed 765 protesters and bystanders.

 ?? Associated Press ?? Coup protesters raise the threefinge­r salute of defiance during a demonstrat­ion in Yangon against the military junta that seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Associated Press Coup protesters raise the threefinge­r salute of defiance during a demonstrat­ion in Yangon against the military junta that seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

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