Largest protests in days draw brutal response from security forces with deaths reported across the country.
A rebel group in Myanmar has said it shot down a military helicopter on Monday as fighting in the country’s northern and eastern frontier regions intensified following an army coup.
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 armed groups.
Myanmar’s military rulers made no immediate comment on the reports, which could not be independently verified.
Violence has spiralled since the February 1 coup, with at least 766 civilians reported killed by security forces and increasing confrontation with armed groups on Myanmar’s fringes and military opponents in the cities and countryside.
The United Nations estimates that tens of thousands of civilians have fled their homes to escape fighting between the military and armed groups based along the border.
The Kachin Independence Army said the helicopter was shot down in the morning at a village near the town of Momauk in Kachin province following days of air raids.
“The military council launched air strikes in that area since around 8 or 9 this morning … using jet fighters and also fired shots using a helicopter so we shot back at them,” said spokesman Naw Bu by telephone.
News portals MizzimaDaily and Kachinwaves also reported the downing of the helicopter next to photographs showing a plume of smoke coming from the ground.
A video on social media said to be of the helicopter shows, at a great distance, 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.
Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler, reporting from Bangkok, Thailand, said the rebels were “one of the largest, most powerful” armed groups in Myanmar.
“There are many different groups, but the Kachin Independence Army is one that has really kind of has been engaged in heavier battles, more frequent battles with the Army since the coup, on February 1,” he said.
“They said it was retaliation for airstrikes that happened overnight Sunday into Monday, and then also on Monday morning. They said they retaliated because the helicopter involved was attacking their positions.”
A resident in the area, who declined to be named, said by telephone that four people had died in hospital after artillery shells hit a monastery in the village, Reuters news agency reported.
Local administrator killed
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup overthrew elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, with protests almost daily against military rule across the country.
In another sign of the growing insecurity, the military-appointed head of the ward administration office in Yangon’s Tharketa district was stabbed at his office and later died of his wounds, Khit Thit Media said. Two residents of the district confirmed the report, according to Reuters.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which tracks deaths and arrests, said at least five civilians were killed on Sunday on what protesters declared was Global Myanmar Spring Revolution Day. Security forces have often used lethal force to break up the protests.
The organisation said security forces have now killed 765 protesters and bystanders.
According to the ruling military government, the death toll is about one-third that figure. It says its actions are justified to stop what it calls rioting.
The military also has kept up targeted arrests of activists and other people it considers to be behind the resistance movement.
The Assistance Association says 3,555 people have been detained since the army seized power. About 40 journalists are among those being held.