Ethnic Kachin rebels in northern Myanmar said yesterday that they had shot down a military helicopter, the latest sign of the fighting that has intensified around the country’s periphery since the coup of February 1.
According to the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the helicopter was shot down around 10:20 a.m. and fell near a village in Momauk township in Kachin State, following days of air raids by the Myanmar armed forces, or Tatmadaw.
“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,” KIA spokesman Naw Bu told Reuters. A grainy video posted on social media shows a helicopter careening to the ground, trailing smoke.
According to media reports, the helicopter was accompanied by two Myanmar Air Force jets that were engaged in shelling KIA posts. Radio Free Asia reported that Kachin Waves, a local news outlet, claimed that after the helicopter was shot down, two artillery shells fell on a monastery in Konglaw village, killing a monk and two villagers, and injuring nine other people.
For the past week, the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, has used heavy artillery and fighter jets to attack a position that the KIA seized from the army last month. Clashes between the KIA and the Tatmadaw have escalated since mid-March, with the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs counting almost 50 armed confrontations in that time.
Momauk is one of five townships in Kachin State that have seen the most intense clashes since the coup. According to The Irrawaddy, more than 5,000 people from 10 villages have now been displaced by the fighting in Momauk.
The fighting in Kachin State is just one front of the widening conflict in Myanmar’s rugged borderlands, where the military coup has derailed what remained of peace negotiations and exacerbated long-running conflicts.
The State Administration Council, as the junta terms itself, has also deployed air strikes against positions held by the Karen National Union (KNU) in Kayin State, eastern Myanmar, after KNU soldiers overran an army base on the banks of the Salween River dividing Myanmar and Thailand late last month.
Yesterday’s scalp by the KIA highlights the potentially pivotal role that Myanmar’s ethnic armed organizations could play in the trajectory of the country’s crisis.
While the well-armed Tatmadaw outnumbers the combined forces of Myanmar’s 20-odd ethnic armed organizations by a considerable margin, and is unlikely to be defeated on the battlefield, it is vulnerable to a multi-front war with ethnic armed groups, while battling anti-coup insurrections in the central regions of the country.
Whether a unified front of ethnic armed organizations ever materializes remains to be seen, but one way or another, the deteriorating situation in Kachin and Kayin states suggests that a resolution to Myanmar’s post-coup crisis remains a long way off.