Junta helicopter shot down in Karen State, killing brigadier general

The KNLA and Cobra Column claimed responsibility for downing the helicopter, which was reportedly carrying officers from the military’s southeastern command in Mawlamyine to a nearby base

At least five regime officers including a brigadier general were killed in a helicopter crash in Myawaddy Township, Karen State on Monday, spokespersons for the Karen National Union (KNU) said. 

The KNU—the political wing of one of Myanmar’s oldest and most powerful ethnic armed organisations, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA)—claimed that the KNLA and its allies had shot down the helicopter. 

Brig-Gen Aye Min Naung, who was among the deceased, was reportedly serving as the newly assigned commander for the Myanmar army’s Light Infantry Division 44 at the time of the crash.

Three majors and a captain were also killed in the crash according to the KNU, and a sixth officer was injured. 

The KNU identified the downed aircraft as a Eurocopter 365, a twin-engine helicopter used for transport, and said it was accompanied by an MI 35—a combat helicopter produced in Russia—at the time of the crash. 

The Eurocopter crashed outside the village of Thin Gan Nyi Naung, Myawaddy Township. It had been carrying military personnel from the military’s southeastern regional command headquarters in Mawlamyine to the Light Infantry Battalion 355 base located near the village, KNU spokespersons said.

The Eurocopter 365 helicopter model—which is made by Airbus—was first used by the Myanmar military in 2021 and is valued at around US $9 million.

The Cobra Column, an ally of the KNLA, also claimed responsibility for downing the aircraft and released video footage showing the Eurocopter being fired on with heavy machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. 

The Cobra Column is made up of members of both the People’s Defence Forces, commanded by the publicly mandated National Unity Government’s ministry of defence, and the KNLA.

The military council has yet to release any public statements about the incident. 

According to local Karen news outlets, the junta has sent reinforcements to Myawaddy Township and the neighbouring Kawkareik Township following the helicopter crash, and tensions in the area remain high. 

Earlier this month, another military transport helicopter crashed near the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Laiza, Kachin State, killing six junta officers including two pilots. Members of the KIA claimed to have fired on the helicopter but could not confirm whether it crashed because they had hit it.  

Two airmen were killed on January 16 when a junta fighter jet crashed in Nam Hpat Kar village tract in northern Shan State’s Kutkai Township, which had been under the control of the KIA since the previous day. The armed organisation’s spokesperson Col. Naw Bu said KIA fighters had shot down the plane.

The Karenni Nationalities Defence Force claimed that they had also shot down a junta air force jet in November of 2023, less than two days after participating in the launch of the Operation 1111 offensive against the military. Regime spokespersons claimed the cause was engine failure.

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