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Investigation Concludes Belarus Unlawfully Diverted Ryanair Flight

FILE - Supporters hold up placards of jailed Belarusian journalists and bloggers Raman Pratasevich and Ihar Losik, calling for their release, at a rally in Warsaw, Poland, June 3, 2021.

The United Nations agency in charge of investigating the diversion of a Ryanair flight by Belarus last year announced it has completed its review, once again pointing the finger at the "unlawful" actions carried out by Minsk.

On May 23, 2021, a Ryanair flight from Greece to Lithuania was forced to land in Minsk, with Belarusian authorities arresting dissident journalist, Roman Protasevich, and his partner, Sofia Sapega, who were on board.

"The ICAO Council concluded its discussions yesterday on the May 2021 incident in Belarus airspace involving Ryanair Flight FR4978, condemning the actions of the Government of Belarus in committing an act of unlawful interference," the International Civil Aviation Organization said in a statement Tuesday.

FILE - Natalia and Dmitry Protasevich pose for a photo after an interview with AFP in Wroclaw, Poland on May 25, 2021.
FILE - Natalia and Dmitry Protasevich pose for a photo after an interview with AFP in Wroclaw, Poland on May 25, 2021.

The investigation was extended in early January to establish certain "missing facts" and examine new information.

The Montreal-based ICAO studied audio recordings of the Minsk air traffic controller who was monitoring the affected flight.

The agency said the bomb threat that was used as an excuse to divert the aircraft was "deliberately false and endangered its safety."

"The threat was communicated to the flight crew upon the instructions of senior government officials of Belarus," it concluded.

The statement added that the council representative of Russia -- a close ally of Minsk -- had "expressed his State's strong objection to identifying Belarus as the source of the unlawful interference which took place."

It said that the council, made up of 36 countries, had asked its president to pass the findings of the investigation on to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

The ICAO's mission is to enact the rules governing global civil air transport, but it has no power to impose sanctions.

In the event of a proven violation of international rules, its role is to provide support for any countries wishing to pronounce condemnations or apply sanctions, in accordance with the Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, the institution said.

Last month, Sapega asked for a pardon from Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko after being sentenced to six years in prison for "inciting social hatred" and "illegal collection of personal data."

Protasevich is currently under house arrest pending trial.