Myanmar’s military accuses rebels of firing on passenger plane

Domestic flight from capital Naypyidaw to Kayah state hit by bullets at a height of about 1,000 metres (3,280 feet).

Members of the Karenni Nationalities Defence Force and Karenni Army at a checkpoint in Myanmar's eastern Kayah state in 2021 [AFP]
Members of the Karenni Nationalities Defence Force and Karenni army at a checkpoint in Myanmar's eastern Kayah state in 2021 [AFP]

Myanmar’s military government has promised to take “serious action” against rebel forces that it has blamed for an attack on a passenger plane that left one person hospitalised and damaged the aircraft’s fuselage.

A passenger on the Myanmar National Airlines domestic flight sustained facial injuries on Friday when bullets passed through the aircraft’s cabin as it prepared to land at Loikaw, the capital of eastern Kayah state, at 8:45am local time (02:15 GMT). The flight had 63 passengers on board.

“Although the plane was damaged … it landed successfully at Loikaw airport due to the efforts of crews,” government spokesman Major-General Zaw Min Tun was quoted on Saturday by the State-run Global New Light of Myanmar news outlet.

The injured passenger had received treatment in hospital, said Zaw Min Tun, who described the attack on the civilian aircraft and passengers as “a military crime, a criminal act”.

“What I want to say is that the security forces will take serious action against the perpetrators or groups that launch such brutal attacks,” he said, according to the news outlet.

The plane, flying from the capital Naypyidaw, came under fire at a height of about 1,000 metres (3,280 feet) and about 6km (3.7 miles) north of Loikaw airport, the military government said, blaming fighters from the Karenni National Progressive Party, an ethnic rebel army, for the shooting.

State media released photos it said were of the bullet-damaged plane and the passenger being treated. Myanmar National Airlines’ office in Loikaw announced that all flights to the city were cancelled indefinitely.

Kayah state has experienced intense conflict between the Myanmar military and local resistance groups since the army seized power last year, overthrowing the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The February 1, 2021, military takeover was met with peaceful nationwide protests, but after the army and police killed demonstrators opposing military rule, civilians throughout the country formed armed units as part of a People’s Defence Force (PDF) to fight the military rule.

Thousands have been killed in the fighting and many more jailed by the military.

PDF groups are allied with well-established armed ethnic minority groups such as the Karenni, the Karen, and the Kachin, which have fought the central government for more than half a century, seeking greater autonomy in border regions.

Khu Daniel, a leader of the Karenni National Progressive Party, denied the government’s accusation and said his party had not ordered its armed wing, the Karenni army, to shoot at civilians or passenger planes.

“The military always blames other organisations for the shootings. Our armed wing didn’t shoot the plane this morning,” he told The Associated Press.

Since the military seized power last year, there have been frequent clashes in Kayah between the army and local anti-government fighters, particularly near a base belonging to the government’s 54th Light Infantry Battalion, located south of the airport.

An information officer for the Karenni Nationalities Defence Force, who spoke on condition of anonymity to safeguard his personal security, called the government’s allegation “nothing more than defamatory propaganda against the revolutionary forces by the military council”.

“The runway and the area of the airfield are surrounded by infantry battalions and high-security areas. So to say that PDFs attacked the plane is only an accusation,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies