YANGON • A leading ethnic rebel army said it shot down a military helicopter yesterday, a day after a renewed junta crackdown on anti-coup protests in Myanmar left at least five civilians dead.
The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) said it downed the helicopter gunship during fierce clashes near the town of Momauk in the country's far north.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and seized power on Feb 1.
Security forces have sought to quell near-daily pro-democracy protests with deadly force, while long-simmering conflicts with ethnic rebels have erupted into fierce fighting.
The KIA, which has waged a decades-long insurgency against the military in northern Kachin state, has been hit by air strikes in recent weeks.
"They used jet fighters and helicopter gunships since eight this morning to attack our troops. Our troops fired back and this was how the helicopter was shot down," said a KIA spokesman, Colonel Naw Bu, who refused to give details of the weaponry used to down the chopper.
A number of Myanmar's myriad ethnic rebel groups have come out in support of the anti-coup protest movement, offering shelter and even training to activists who have fled the crackdown.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a local monitoring group, said at least five civilians were killed in operations to break up protests on Sunday.
A total of 765 civilians have been killed in the crackdown, according to the AAPP, though the military disputes the toll, giving a much lower figure.
More than 4,500 people have been arrested, the monitor has said, including dozens of journalists.
On Monday - World Press Freedom Day - a group of foreign embassies in Myanmar condemned the junta's treatment of journalists, saying they had become a "target of repression".
Independent media outlets have been shut down or had their licences revoked, and the Myanmar authorities have throttled Internet access in an effort to stem the flow of information about the protests and crackdown.