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BANGKOK (AP) – A rebel ethnic group in northern Myanmar said they shot down a government military helicopter in heavy fighting over a strategic position on Monday.

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

The Kachins are one of many ethnic minorities who have allied themselves with the national protest movement against the army’s eviction in February by the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, who was arrested and remains in detention. The country’s ethnic minorities have fought for decades against the central government for greater autonomy.

Government offenses are ongoing against the Kachins and Karen, another ethnic minority in eastern Myanmar who maintains its own armed force and has also been the target of airstrikes. The fighting in Kachin and Karen states has displaced more than 45,000 villagers.

Colonel Naw Bu, spokesperson for the Kachin Independence Army, said his group’s forces shot down the plane after government forces used helicopters and jet fighters in an attack on the Momauk Township, where the Kachins seized a base at the foot of Alaw Bum Mountain. the government on March 25.

A social media video believed to be of the helicopter shows a plane diving from a great distance as the sounds of heavy weapons are heard. As the helicopter continues a steep descent, it appears to catch fire and leave a trail of smoke. The video, and another remote shot showing smoke coming from what was believed to have been the crash site, could not be independently verified.

Naw Bu said it was the first plane to be shot down in what became a fierce battle that lasted nearly two weeks after the government attacked with heavy artillery and fighter jets.

“Good news! Our prayer has been answered. The KIA shot down a terrorist’s helicopter,” Hkanhpa Sadan, foreign secretary of the Kachin national organization affiliated with the guerrilla army, said on Twitter. in the military government regularly qualify its forces as “terrorists”.

The ruling junta also continues to face a challenge in towns and villages across Myanmar, where street protests are still taking place more than three months after taking power.

Security forces often use lethal force to break up protests. The Political Prisoners Assistance Association, which tracks deaths and arrests, said at least five civilians were killed on Sunday in what protesters said was the day of Myanmar’s Spring World Revolution.

The organization said security forces have now killed 765 protesters and passers-by. The government puts the death toll at around a third of that figure and says its actions are justified in ending what it calls the riots.

The government has also continued with targeted arrests of activists and others it sees as behind the resistance movement. The Assistance Association claims that 3,555 people have been arrested since the army seized power. About forty journalists are among the detainees.

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