Tensions between Colombo, Moscow escalate

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The decision taken by Sri Lanka to ground a Russian Aeroflot flight, heading from Katunayake to Moscow, has caused political tensions between Colombo and Moscow to escalate, sources at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) said.

They also said, this decision to ground the Aeroflot flight had been taken while top-ranking diplomatic officials of the two countries had reached a written understanding not to ban any Russian flights from leaving Colombo when they arrive here.

It is also learnt that the bulk of overseas tourists are sent to Sri Lanka by Russia and a BIA source revealed that close to 400,000 Russians were planning to arrive in Colombo during the forthcoming winter season.

Hence, BIA sources said, the decision to ground the Russian flight at the BIA as per a Court order could have drastic consequences for Sri Lanka, both politically and economically.

Meanwhile, Colombo Commercial High Court Judge Harsha Sethunga stated on Friday that the trial with regard to the injunction issued by the Court, to ground an Aeroflot flight heading from Katunayake to Moscow, will be taken up on 8 June.

He gave this order, having perused a request made to him by the Russian firm owning the aircraft and the Chief Controller of the Katunayake Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

ASG Sumathi Dharmawardene appeared on behalf of the second suspect in the case, the Chief Air Traffic Controller of the Katunayake CAA.

ASG Dhamarawardene told Judge Sethunga, the Government of Sri Lanka is duty-bound to provide necessary facilities to all international flights that arrive at the BIA, as well as for their safe return to their destinations, as per international agreements signed and based on air traffic control regulations.

He further mentioned, the Court has not been empowered by law, to issue injunctions to ban flights, from leaving the country. Responding to the submission, Judge Harsha Sethunga, remarked that no injunction has been issued on the Air Traffic Controller of the CAA at Katunayake.

The Court had issued an injunction on 2 June, having perused a petition filed by Celestial Aviation Trading Private Limited situated in Ireland.

The firm stated that the airline which had arrived at the BIA belonged to it and stated that till the necessary payments that are required to be paid to it, the airline concerned should not be allowed to leave the BIA and to impose an injunction on it. The order issued by the Court stated that the injunction will be valid till 16 June.

By T.K.G. Kapila (Katunayake) and Hansi Nanayakkara