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UN calls Bolivia plane incident 'unfortunate'

UN chief says incidents such as grounding of president's plane should be prevented from happening in the future.

Last Modified: 09 Jul 2013 20:49
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Morales was awaiting Spanish permission to use its airspace after his plane's diversion to Vienna on July 3. [Reuters]

The United Nations chief has said that the grounding of the Bolivian president's plane in Vienna on suspicion that NSA leaker Edward Snowden was aboard was “unfortunate”.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said on Tuesday that “it was important to prevent such incidents from occurring in the future.''

“A head of state and his or her aircraft enjoy immunity and inviolability.''

Snowden is believed to be still at Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport where he landed on June 23 after fleeing Hong Kong.

Some European countries refused to allow Bolivian President Evo Morales to fly through their airspace on his way home from Moscow on July 2 because of suspicions that Snowden had boarded his plane.

Ban spoke after meeting the ambassadors of Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela to hear their concerns.

Apology from Europe

Bolivia has accused Spain, France, Portugal and Italy of closing their skies to President Evo Morales' plane last week after being told it was carrying the former US spy agency contractor from Moscow to Bolivia, and demanded to know who gave them that information.

Spain has acknowledged on Tuesday that a US request had led it to delay approving an overflight by Bolivia's president, but said it had given the go-ahead after receiving an assurance from Bolivia that US fugitive Edward Snowden was not on the plane.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo was asked by reporters whether the alert had come from the United States.

He replied: "Inter alia (among other things)."

He also confirmed the account of Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca, who said on Sunday that Garcia-Margallo had asked Bolivia for a written assurance that Snowden was not on the plane before opening its airspace.

"Spain ... granted airspace permission on the basis of the word of the Bolivian foreign minister," Garcia-Margallo said.

"We believe the word of our allies and friends."

"If any misunderstanding has taken place, I don't have any objection to saying sorry to President Morales."

The Bolivian government says the United States knew that Snowden was not on the plane and simply wanted to intimidate Morales because of his outspoken criticism of US policies.

Morales has since said, along with Venezuela and Nicaragua, that he would offer Snowden asylum.

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