Bolivia has accused European countries of an “act of aggression” for refusing to allow its presidential jet into their airspace, amid suggestions US fugitive Edward Snowden was on board. Bolivia said France, Italy, Spain and Portugal had blocked the plane from flying over their territory.
President Evo Morales was flying back to Bolivia from Moscow when the plane was forced to stop in Vienna Tuesday. The jet was reportedly searched for Mr Snowden, wanted for leaking US secrets. He was apparently not on board and is still believed to be at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, from where he is seeking asylum in Bolivia and several other countries.
Forcing the plane of a national president to land is a highly unusual move. Bolivia says France, Spain, Portugal and Italy initially denied the plane overflight rights. The assumption must be that the United States asked some European countries to intervene. It didn’t want Edward Snowden slipping from their grasp if he was on the plane. An Austrian government source said that having requested and got the agreement of the Bolivians (because state immunity was involved), Vienna airport police checked the identity of the five crew members and six people accompanying President Morales. They then searched the plane and found nothing.
If the Americans did persuade several European countries to deny overflight rights to the Bolivian president, it would suggest Washington is winning the diplomatic argument in Europe’s capitals that Edward Snowden must be apprehended. Remember, this happened just 48 hours after much of this continent reacted with anger to leaks provided by Mr Snowden that allegedly showed the US was spying on EU offices and European embassies.
The options for Mr Snowden appear to be diminishing. The incident came hours after Mr Morales said his country would consider a request for political asylum from Mr Snowden. Bolivia’s UN envoy Sacha Llorenti told reporters in Geneva that he would complain to the UN about the European countries’ actions. “The decisions of these countries violated international law. We are already making procedures to denounce this to the UN Secretary General,” he said.