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Lithuanian Civil Aviation Administrations considers punishing Swedish pilots over Belarus flight

Lėktuvas virš Baltarusijos
Šaltinis: BNS

Lithuania's Civil Aviation Administration is considering opening an administrative offence case against Swedish pilots who flew to Belarus illegally and dropped a thousand teddy bears in support of freedom of speech. Alvydas Šumskas, deputy director of the administration, confirmed this to BNS on Thursday. The Defense Ministry, however, claims no laws have been breached.

He doubts, however, if the Swedish pilots will agree to come to Lithuania and provide explanations.

"They are identified by their confessions in the media. We are considering opening a case. Theoretically, it’s possible, but practically, I think, such a case would end without any result. If we open a case, we would have to ask them to come, they have to come, sign explanations, we have to fill a protocol, they have to sign it and confirm that they agree. There are six-month deadlines. I really doubt that they will come. We would have to drop the case after six months. But we are considering it and will perhaps initiate it after consulting with lawyers," Šumskas said.

He also said that the State Security Department had asked for information about the alleged violation. Šumskas told what information was given to the department.

"The data include radar information from state enterprise Oro Navigacija (Air Navigation). It was identified that at 5 AM, a plane emerged in the area of Pociūnai aerodrome, heading eastwards to the Belorussian border, and it kept disappearing and re-appearing. The radars completely lost it somewhere in the area of Šalčininkai District at around 6 AM. At 7:34 AM, it re-appeared in the same area heading to Pociūnai aerodrome. That's one piece of information confirming that some flight took place. The second piece of information is that on 1 July, a Swedish plane landed in Pociūnai aerodrome and it left for Visby (on the island of Gotland) on 4 July, i.e., on the same day when that flight took place," Šumskas said.

"Since they flew from Sweden and to Sweden with providing flight itineraries, as the rules demand, so the plane registration number is recorded. In the photos published online, the pilots wear teddy bear masks and are pictured near a plane with its registration number matching the one on that plane which was at Pociūnai aerodrome. So, to my mind, all facts let us believe the flight did take place and it was made from Pociūnai aerodrome," Šumskas concluded.

Earlier on Thursday, Lithuanian Minister of National Defense Rasa Juknevičienė said Lithuania had no information about the "teddy bear" incident in Belarus.

"There was definitely no violation of Lithuania's airspace. Various small private planes are regularly present in Lithuania, and there were some of them at that time but no violations were recorded. If we receive a request for assistance, then Lithuanian institutions will process it pursuant to existing laws," the minister told the Žinių Radijas (News Radio).

"Lithuania has no information about such an incident," she added.

Asked whether there were ways to prevent such incidents, Šumskas said: "On our part, there's one way and that is an administrative case and a fine for violation of the flight rules. In case of an international flight, one has to provide a flight itinerary. So in this case, it was an illegal flight in violation of the flight rules. (…) If they had been our pilots, then we would have taken additional measures, but now we are talking about foreign nationals, and our actions are limited," he said.

Swedish activists announced last month they had flown into the territory of Belarus and dropped several hundred teddy bears on parachutes with messages promoting freedom of speech and human rights.

The plane reportedly entered Belarus from Lithuania. According to Belorussian media reports, Minsk has asked Lithuania and Sweden for legal assistance in investigating alleged state border violation when a light Swedish aircraft crossed the Lithuanian-Belorussian border on 4 July.

The incident sparked a diplomatic conflict between Belarus and Sweden. Minsk announced its decision on Wednesday to recall all diplomats from Sweden and order Stockholm to recall its diplomatic staff from Minsk.

No legal violation

Lithuania's Defense Ministry says that the Air Force did not register an unlawful flight of a Swedish-piloted civilian aircraft to Belarus.

The ministry said the Swedish airplane's presence in Lithuania was legitimate, regardless of the intentions voiced by the Civil Aviation Administration earlier on Thursday to open a probe into violation of flight rules – performing an international flight without submitting the necessary flight plan.

"The Swedish airplane's presence in the Lithuanian air-space was lawful. It came to Lithuania on the eve of the event with a submitted and approved flight plan from a country in the European Union (EU). On 4 July, the Air Force did not register a violation of the Lithuanian-Belorussian state border, consequently, the trace of the Swedish airplane that appeared on radar screens after a brief disappearance is considered a legal presence in the Lithuanian air-space," the ministry said in a response to BNS.

"Airplanes that enter Lithuania's air-space lawfully are not considered suspicious and are not subjected to increased attention of the Air Force air surveillance system," the Defense Ministry said.

Naujienų agentūros BNS informaciją atgaminti visuomenės informavimo priemonėse bei interneto tinklalapiuose be raštiško UAB „BNS“ sutikimo draudžiama.
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