Bolivia accused Austria of “kidnapping” Bolivian President Evo Morales yesterday after authorities searched his plane during a stop-over in Vienna on suspicion he was taking fugitive US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden to Latin America.
A senior Bolivian diplomat said the Austrians had acted at the bidding of the US, which has been trying to get its hands on Snowden since he revealed details of its surveillance programs last month.
“We’re talking about the president on an official trip after an official summit being kidnapped,” Bolivian Ambassador to the UN in New York Sacha Llorenti Soliz told reporters in Geneva.
The Bolivian plane, which was bringing Morales home from an energy conference in Moscow, was stranded at Vienna airport for several hours after Portugal and France refused to allow it to fly through their airspace.
The search found that Snowden was not onboard and the plane eventually left Vienna about noon yesterday.
The 30-year-old Snowden is believed to be still in the transit area of a Moscow airport, where he has been trying since June 23 to find a country that will offer him refuge from prosecution in the US on espionage charges.
The incident over Morales’ plane was the latest twist in a saga that has raised a furor in the US and abroad over the balance between privacy rights and national security.
Revelations of US surveillance on European countries have also strained trans-Atlantic relations.
Bolivia denounced the Austrian action as an act of aggression and violation of international law.
“We have no doubt that it was an order from the White House,” Llorenti said. “By no means should a diplomatic plane with the president be diverted from its route and forced to land in another country.”
Bolivia said it would lodge a complaint at the UN.
However, Austria said Morales had agreed to a voluntary inspection of the plane. Austrian Deputy Chancellor Michael Spindelegger told reporters at the airport that Snowden had not been on the plane.
“Our colleagues from the airport had a look and can give assurances that no one is on board who is not a Bolivian citizen,” he said.