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Myanmar helicopter crash ends in shootout, killing pilot, anti-junta group says

An insurgent group in eastern Myanmar said on Tuesday it shot down a junta military helicopter and killed its pilot then clashed with junta forces on the ground.

The Karenni Nationalities Defense Force insurgent group said they opened fire on two helicopters delivering reinforcements and rations to a junta base in the town of Hpasawng in Kayah State on Monday. One helicopter was hit and came down in Bawlake township, an insurgent officer told Radio Free Asia.

“The helicopter blew smoke and crashed after it was hit,” said the officer, who declined to be identified for security reasons. “The pilot was killed when we opened fire.”

RFA has not been able to independently confirm the officer’s account. 

The Kayah State-based news site Kantarawaddy Times reported that two pilots had been killed.

The junta did not release any information about such an incident and Kayah State’s junta spokesperson, Zar Ni Maung, did not answer his telephone when RFA tried to call for information.

Junta spokesmen have in the past dismissed claims by insurgent forces of shooting down aircraft, which they have now done eight times since the latest round of war in Myanmar began after the army overthrew an elected government in early 2021.

Karenni Nationalities Defense Force members near Than Lwin Bridge in Hpasawng city on May 6, 2024. (Karenni Nationalities Defense Force)

The Karenni officer said at least 10 soldiers in the second helicopter had parachuted to the ground after the first helicopter was hit, and battled Karenni forces.

Though junta forces have the advantage of air power, the insurgents have been making gains in several different parts of the country since late last year, including in Kayah State, on the Thai border.

As of Tuesday morning, allied insurgents were monitoring the crash site but there had been no further reports of casualties, said a Karenni Nationalities Defense Force news and information official.

The junta and Karenni forces have been battling since the rebels launched an offensive to capture two infantry battalion positions near Hpasawng on Saturday. The junta’s army has launched more than 20 airstrikes in its defense of Hpasawng, a Karenni officer said.

Anti-junta forces have claimed responsibility for shooting down a total of eight junta aircraft, including a transport helicopter and fighter jets, in Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, and Rakhine states, since 2021, according to data compiled by RFA.

Kayah State, home to various insurgent factions battling to take territory from junta forces, has seen escalating violence in recent months, with landmines claiming more victims and accusations of rights abuses leveled against junta forces.

Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Kiana Duncan and Mike Firn.