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Ethnic guerrillas in Myanmar say they shot down a helicopter

An ethnic rebel group in northern Myanmar claims to have shot down a government helicopter during a violent struggle for a strategic position

BANGKOK – An ethnic rebel group in northern Myanmar said it shot down a government military helicopter on Monday during a heavy clash over a strategic position.

The Kachin Independence Army complaint came as protests against the military government of Myanmar continued in the state of Kachin and other parts of the country. It would be the first aircraft shot down during recent hostilities between the government and ethnic guerrilla armies. There were no immediate comments from the government about the incident.

The Kachins are one of several ethnic minorities who have joined the protest movement across the country against the military overthrow of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February, who was arrested and remains in detention. The country’s ethnic minorities have struggled for decades against the central government for greater autonomy.

Government offenses are underway against the Kachin and Karen, another ethnic minority in eastern Myanmar who maintain their own armed forces and have also been the target of air strikes. The fighting in the states of Kachin and Karen displaced more than 45,000 villagers.

Colonel Naw Bu, spokesman for the Kachin Independence Army, said his group’s forces shot down the aircraft after government forces used helicopters and fighters in an attack on Momauk County, where the Kachin took a base in the foothills of the government’s Alaw Bum mountain on March 25.

A video on social media that says it is the helicopter shows, from a great distance, a plane diving while listening to the sounds of heavy weapons. As the helicopter continues down a steep descent, it appears to catch fire and leaves a trail of smoke. The video, and another one taken at a distance showing smoke from what was said to be the scene of the accident, could not be independently verified.

Naw Bu said it was the first aircraft shot down in what became a fierce battle that lasted almost two weeks after the government attacked with heavy artillery and jet fighters.

“Good news! Our prayer was answered. The KIA shot down a terrorist’s helicopter,” said Hkanhpa Sadan, secretary of foreign affairs for the Kachin National Organization, affiliated with the guerrilla army, on Twitter. Opponents of the military government often refer to their forces as “terrorists”.

The governing board also continues to face a challenge in the cities and towns of Myanmar, where street protests still take place more than three months after the seizure of power.

Security forces often use lethal force to stop the protests. The Association of Assistance for Political Prisoners, which monitors deaths and arrests, said at least five civilians were killed on Sunday in what protesters declared was the Global Spring Revolution Day in Myanmar.

The organization said security forces had already killed 765 protesters and passers-by. The government estimates the death toll at about a third of that number and says its actions are justified to stop what it calls riots.

The government has also maintained selective arrests of activists and others it considers to be behind the resistance movement. The Assistance Association claims that 3,555 people have been detained since the seizure of power by the army. About 40 journalists are among those arrested.

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