Kachin Independence Army, one of the country's most powerful rebel groups, says it shot down a helicopter gunship during fierce clashes near Momauk town in Myanmar's far north.

This handout from Kachinwaves taken and released on May 3, 2021 shows a protester holding a placard supporting the Kachin Independence Army and Kachin Independence Organisation, in Hpakant, Myanmar.
This handout from Kachinwaves taken and released on May 3, 2021 shows a protester holding a placard supporting the Kachin Independence Army and Kachin Independence Organisation, in Hpakant, Myanmar. (AFP)

The Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of Myanmar's most powerful rebel groups, has shot down a helicopter after returning fire following air strikes by the military, according to an official at the group.

The KIA's information department head, Naw Bu, said on Monday the helicopter was shot down around 10:20 am at a village near the town of Momauk in Kachin province.

"The military council launched air strikes in that area since around 8 or 9 this morning ... using jet fighters and also fired shots using a helicopter so we shot back at them," he said by telephone. 

He declined to say what weapons were used. 

News portals MizzimaDaily and Kachinwaves also reported the downing of the helicopter next to photographs showing a plume of smoke coming from the ground.

A resident in the area, who declined to be named, said by telephone that four people had died in hospital after artillery shells hit a monastery in the village.

Reuters news agency could not independently verify the reports and a military spokesman did not answer a phone call seeking comment.

Thousands flee fighting 

The United Nations estimates that tens of thousands of civilians have fled their homes as a result of the fighting between the military and ethnic minority insurgents in remote northern and eastern frontier regions. 

The conflict intensified after Myanmar's generals seized power on February1, ousting the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup, with protests almost daily against military rule across the country.

READ MORE: Death toll rises in Myanmar's 'shake the world' protests

At least 765 protesters killed

On Sunday, Myanmar security forces opened fire on some of the biggest protests in days, killing eight people, media reported.

The protests, after a spell of dwindling crowds and what appeared to be more restraint by the security forces, were coordinated with demonstrations in Myanmar communities around the world to mark what organisers called "the global Myanmar spring revolution".

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) advocacy group says security forces have killed at least 765 protesters since the coup. Reuters is unable to confirm the toll.

AAPP, a local monitoring group, said that at least five civilians were killed in operations to break up protests on Sunday.

The military said it had to seize power because its complaints of fraud in a November election won by Suu Kyi's party were not addressed by an election commission that deemed the vote f air.

Suu Kyi, 75, has been detained since the coup along with many other members of her party. 

READ MORE: Myanmar enters fourth month under junta with bomb blasts, flash protests

Journalists become 'target of repression'

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 Myanmar authorities have throttled internet access in an effort to stem the flow of information about the protests and crackdown.

"We call for the immediate release of all media workers, the establishment of the freedom of information and communication and for the end of all internet restrictions in Myanmar," said the statement, noting that of 80 journalists arrested by the authorities, more than half were still detained.

The signatories included the embassies of the United States, the European Union, Australia, Britain, France and Germany.

READ MORE: Coup and pandemic could drive half of Myanmar into poverty by 2022

Source: TRTWorld and agencies