Myanmar’s military government accused rebel forces in the eastern state of Kayah of firing at a passenger plane as it was preparing to land on Friday, wounding a passenger who was hit by a bullet that penetrated the fuselage. Rebel groups denied the allegation.
State television MRTV said the Myanmar National Airlines plane, carrying 63 passengers, was hit as it was about to land in Loikaw, the capital of the eastern state of Kayah, also known as Karenni.
It said Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, a spokesperson for Myanmar’s ruling military council, said the shooting was carried out by “terrorists” belonging to the Karenni National Progressive Party, an ethnic minority militia battling the government, and their allies in the People’s Defence Force, an armed pro-democracy group.
“I want to say that this kind of attack on the passenger plane is a war crime,” he told MRTV over phone. “People and organisations who want peace need to condemn this issue all round.”
MRTV said the bullet entered the plane’s lower fuselage as it was flying at an altitude of 3,500ft about 6.5km north of the airport. It said the injured passenger was taken to a hospital.
The state news agency released photos it said were of the bullet hole 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 military and local resistance groups since the army seized power last year, overthrowing the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
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.
Government spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said it had been providing security around the airport and accused the KNPP and PDF of creating chaos in Loikaw by firing artillery into the city and the area near the airport.
The information officer of the Karenni Nationalities Defence Force, who spoke on condition of anonymity to safeguard his personal security, called the government’s allegation about Friday's shooting “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 the PDFs attacked the plane is only an accusation,” he said.