Burma

Myanmar’s Wa Army Confirms It Has a Helicopter

By Nyein Nyein 26 February 2020

The United Wa State Army (UWSA), Myanmar’s largest ethnic armed organization, on Wednesday confirmed it had acquired a helicopter, making the northeast-based rebel group the nation’s first to possess such an aircraft.

A UWSA spokesman denied speculation that the group’s latest acquisition—which was reportedly ordered and delivered from China—would be used for military purposes, insisting it is only for “personal and leisure use.”

U Nyi Rang, the UWSA’s liaison officer, confirmed that the UWSA had acquired a four-seater helicopter, adding that it was purchased late last year and is already in use.

It is the first time the UWSA has bought a private helicopter, he added.

“It is just for personal use and for leisure, and is not for any other purpose,” he told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, saying rumors about the UWSA owning military helicopters were false.

The UWSA, which has an estimated 30,000 soldiers and 20,000 auxiliary troops, showcased its sophisticated arsenal of military hardware during a parade in April last year.

U Nyi Rang declined to divulge the price of the helicopter, where it was bought, or whether the group paid tax on the purchase to the government.

However, local news sources have reported the aircraft is Chinese made and was purchased in September 2019.

Depending on the model, the price tag for a four-seater private helicopter is in the range of US$250,000–$1,700,000 (about 360 million-2.5 billion kyats), according to two finance and aviation websites.

Union government spokesman U Zaw Htay said at a press conference at the Presidential Palace on Feb. 21 that the Myanmar government would purchase an Italian-brand helicopter for use by cabinet ministers during emergency response activities following natural disasters.

The helicopter, which can seat 15 people, cost US$14.35 million. U Zaw Htay said the Union Parliament had already approved funding for the purchase. Myanmar’s civilian government is due to take delivery of its first ever helicopter in April. It is currently being assembled in Malaysia.

The spokesman added that until now the government did not have its own helicopter, forcing cabinet ministers including State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to rely on military helicopters when overseeing emergency relief efforts or monitoring post-conflict situations.

Boarding military choppers has left political leaders vulnerable, especially when flying over restive areas where ethnic rebels and the Myanmar military are clashing.

On Feb. 19, a military helicopter carrying a Myanmar Union minister and the Rakhine State chief minister came under fire. Neither minister was hurt in the incident, which occurred as they were traveling to Buthidaung Township in northern Rakhine State to meet schoolchildren who were injured when an artillery shell struck their school a few days earlier.

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