February 24, 2007 / 3:04 PM / in 12 years

Iran military helicopter crash kills at least one

(Adds details)

TEHRAN, Feb 24 (Reuters) - An Iranian military helicopter crashed near the border with Turkey and Iraq on Saturday, killing at least one Revolutionary Guards commander, Iranian news agencies said.

Eight other people were on board the aircraft when it came down, the semi-official Mehr agency said, but it was not immediately clear whether those eight were killed or injured in the crash.

"This morning while on a mission in the northwestern province of West Azerbaijan the commander Saeed Ghahari was martyred in a helicopter crash," the semi-official Fars news agency Fars said without giving a source.

An Iranian Kurdish rebel group said it had shot down the aircraft, the Brussels-based Kurdish news agency Firat said.

It said the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), an Iranian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which is fighting Turkey, shot down the helicopter with a shoulder-held missile, killing eight soldiers and capturing one.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency said 17 rebels were killed by the Revolutionary Guards during the mission in the province before the crash.

Clashes between Iranian forces and PJAK militants have been reported in recent weeks in the region where the borders of Iran, Turkey and Iraq meet. PJAK rebels have bases in the remote mountains of northeastern Iraq from where they launch attacks.

Various Iranian Kurdish rebel groups have fought a low-level conflict against Tehran for many decades claiming neglect and discrimination by central government.

Iran operates an ageing fleet of aircraft mostly dating from before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. (Additional reporting by London bureau)

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