By Anwesha Bhaumik
Kolkata, May 3 | The rebels of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) shot down a Myanmar military helicopter gunship when it was attacking their base on Monday. This is the first time a rebel group in the country has brought down a military helicopter after the Tatmadaw (military) started offensives against the country’s multiple ethnic rebel armies in late April.
KIA’s “foreign liaison unit” located somewhere near India’s Arunachal Pradesh state informed IANS that the helicopter was brought down by rebel anti-aircraft fire at Momauk in Kachin state at 10.20 a.m. local Myanmar time on Monday.
The unit’s ‘chief liaison officer’ Naw Bu said the direct hit on the helicopter scared away two Burmese air force jets which were strafing the KIA base in the vicinity.
He said that helicopter crashed near Konglaw village after getting hit by anti-aircraft fire in its tail rotor.
Tatmadaw’s Burmese troops and KIA rebel fighters have twice clashed near Momauk since April 11.
On April 29, the KIA launched an artillery attack on Bhamo airport which these military helicopters use for raiding rebel positions.
The fighting in Momauk is near the KIA’s base at Alaw Bum on a hill overlooking Myanmar’s border with China. The hill overlooks the strategic approach to the KIA base which the Tatmadaw is trying to capture.
Naw Bu told IANS the KIA will ‘fight like hell’ to prevent the capture of the Alaw Bum base because its fall to the Tatmadaw would help it dominate a huge swathe of territory between Bhamo and Myitkyina, administrative capital of the Kachin state.
KIA seized this base from the Myanmar military Tatmadaw on March 25.
A total of 7000 ethnic Kachins have been displaced due to the ongoing fighting in the Momauk area.
Clashes between the Tatmadaw and KIA started in mid-March after the KIA launched a sneak attack on a military camp near Sai Zin village in Mohnyin district of Kachin state.
Since then, every KIA raid on a Burmese military camp has provoked retaliatory air strikes by the Tatmadaw.
The Tatmadaw has used the helicopters in gunship role to strafe KIA camps and also land troops for retaliatory attacks. Two KIA camps were subjected to sudden attacks using heli-borne troops in northern Shan state’s Kutkai township during the last one month.
Tensions have been high between the army and the ethnic armed groups since the military seized power in a coup on February 1.
Since the coup, the Myanmar army has also clashed with the Karen National Union and the Restoration Council of Shan State, both signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with Aung Saan Suu Kyi’s NLD government that was unseated by the Feb 1 coup.
On February 20 this year, weeks after the military takeover, all 10 armed groups that have signed the NCA announced that they would be putting on hold political meetings for negotiations with the junta.
The announcement also said that the groups support the Civil Disobedience Movement and other forms of public resistance to the coup and would find ways to support them.
Meanwhile, the ruling military council has withdrawn its designation of the Arakan Army as a terrorist organization after months of relative peace in Rakhine state.
Until the two sides entered into a temporary ceasefire last November, they were engaged in some of the worst fighting seen in the country in recent years.
The military junta is trying to placate some ethnic rebel groups even as they attack those sheltering and training ethnic Bamar rebels who have fled Myanmar’s cities to raise armed groups after the brutal military suppression has led to nearly 800 deaths so far.