A military jet crashes in eastern Myanmar. Ethnic resistance groups claim they shot it down

BANGKOK (AP) — A Myanmar military jet fighter crashed Saturday in a combat zone in the eastern state of Kayah, a military officer and a member of an anti-military resistance organization said. The resistance group said the plane had been shot down, but its claim could not immediately be confirmed.

A spokesperson for the ethnic armed group, the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force, said it had shot down the plane during heavy fighting near Loikaw, the capital of Kayah state, which is also known as Karenni.

However, an officer in Myanmar's military, while confirming that one of its aircraft crashed somewhere in Kayah, said he did not know whether it was shot down or crashed due to technical failure.

The officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to release information, said a search for the crashed aircraft and two pilots was underway.

Loosely organized resistance groups have sprung up around Myanmar since the army seized power in February 2021 from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

No warplanes are reliably known to have been shot down previously by resistance forces, though another ethnic armed group reportedly shot down a helicopter in May 2021.

The spokesperson of the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force resistance group said the plane was shot down near an area controlled by the military in Hpruso township at around 5 p.m., shortly after shooting broke out near Loikaw. He spoke on condition of anonymity to safeguard his personal security.

Hpruso is about 300 kilometers (185 miles) northeast of Yangon, the country’s largest city.

A statement posted on the Karenni group’s Facebook page said fire from heavy machine guns had hit the fighter in its fuselage and a wing, and it crashed a great distance from the battlefield after emitting smoke.

The joint statement by two resistance groups, the Karenni Nationalities Defense Force and the Karenni Army — the armed wing of the Karenni National Progressive Party — credited their members for downing the plane.

Mizzima, an online news site sympathetic to the resistance, said one of its reporters in Kayah state saw parachutes float down in the sky after hearing an explosion and seeing flames coming from the jet fighter.

Its report said two parachutes had been found on the ground by resistance forces. It published photos of one parachute and a flight helmet, along with breathing apparatus that a pilot would use. However, neither the pilots nor any bodies were found.

Kayah state has experienced intense conflict between the military and local resistance groups since the army takeover in 2021.

After security forces cracked down violently on nationwide peaceful protests against the takeover, armed pro-democracy resistance forces were established, which joined hand with some ethnic armed organizations representing minorities including the Karennai, the Karen and the Kachin.. Fighting takes place in many of Myanmar's rural areas, especially along the borders, where the ethnic guerrilla groups are strongest.

Major offenses by the military, including airstrikes, have driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. The resistance forces have no effective defense against air attacks.

Most combat aircraft in Myanmar’s military come from China or Russia, which also supply other armaments. Many Western nations maintain an arms embargo, in addition to other sanctions on the ruling military, and are making efforts to block the supply of aviation fuel.