North America

Edward Snowden: Bolivia accuses US of putting Evo Morales’s life at risk

Edward SnowdenBolivia accused the United States of putting President Evo Morales's life at risk after "ordering" his plane to be diverted and searched on suspicion of harbouring the intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

The South American leader left Moscow on Tuesday evening to fly home after attending a gas exporters' conference but his plane was diverted to Austria, apparently because there were claims he had the fugitive American on board.

Mr Morales said his overnight stay in Vienna was "like a near 13-hour kidnapping". "I am not a delinquent," he said.

It was the latest twist in the international drama surrounding Mr Snowden.

The former CIA and National Security Agency (NSA) computer technician has been holed up in the transit zone of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport since June 23, after flying in from Hong Kong. He is seeking asylum in a string of countries because the US wants him on espionage charges for disclosing top secret NSA spying programmes, including widespread spying on American citizens.

The chain of events which led to Mr Morales's Vienna diversion appeared to have been caused by him saying that Bolivia was ready in principle to offer Mr Snowden refuge.

 The Bolivian leader's aircraft was re-routed after leaving the Russian capital and ended up sitting on the tarmac in the Austrian capital overnight. He did not fly out until 11.30am local time.

Angry Bolivian officials said the plane had been forced to land because France, Portugal and Italy blocked it from flying over their territories, acting on orders from the US, which suspected Mr Snowden was being smuggled out of Russia.

David Choquehuanca, the Bolivian foreign minister, told a news conference in Bolivia's capital La Paz that Mr Snowden was not on board the president's Falcon 900 EX jet. He said Bolivia wanted to "express our displeasure" with the alleged decision to force the plane off its route. "It's discrimination against our president," he added. "The life of our president has been put at risk."

The 12-nation UNASUR group of South American countries also weighed in, saying it "rejects categorically the dangerous act" of denying access to Mr Morales's plane.

Austrian officials who searched the aircraft with Mr Morales's permission confirmed Mr Snowden was not on board.

Bolivia's UN ambassador Sacha Llorenti claimed the forced stop was an "act of aggression" and that European countries had violated international law by blocking their airspace.

Francois Hollande, the French president, said he had opened his country’s airspace as soon as he knew Mr Morales was on board.

“There was conflicting information about the passengers who were on board,” Hollande said in Berlin. “When I knew it was the plane of the Bolivian president, I immediately gave permission for it to fly” over French territory. The White House refused to comment.

WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy organisation which is supporting Mr Snowden, said earlier this week that he had applied to 21 countries for political asylum. However, many on the list have already rejected the request and only Venezuela and Bolivia suggested they might look favourably on it.

An added problem for Mr Snowden is that he does not have a valid document for onward travel after the US cancelled his passport.

Leave a Reply