Ireland to ask UN body to investigate Belarus grounding

FILE PHOTO: Airport personnel and security forces are seen on the tarmac in front of a Ryanair flight which was forced to land in Minsk, Belarus, May 23, 2021. Handout via REUTERS

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Ireland will call on the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization to conduct an impartial probe into the "forced landing" of a Ryanair jet in Minsk at a meeting of the council later on Thursday, its transport minister said.

International condemnation of the scrambling of a fighter jet and the use of what turned out to be a false bomb alert to divert the flight to Minsk and detain a dissident Belarusian journalist has focused mainly on accusations of state-sponsored hijacking and rights violations.

But Europe's aviation regulator said on Wednesday that Belarus's actions had also cast doubt on its ability to provide safe air navigation, and some international officials are pushing for an investigation close to the type seen when a plane crashes or something goes technically wrong.

"What we'll be looking for is an investigation under Article 55e of the Convention of the Council (ICAO) and my understanding is that this would be the first such investigation," Eamon Ryan said.

He was speaking after a meeting of ministers at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's International Transport Forum, in which several other countries condemned what Ryan described as a "coercive, forced landing." No common position on the issue was agreed at the meeting.

Article 55e gives the council the power to "investigate, at the request of any contracting state, any situation which may appear to present avoidable obstacles to the development of international air navigation."

Ryan said he would expect such an investigation to be turned around by approximately the end of June.

"We need a full probe, a thorough investigation," he said. Ryan is to attend an urgent meeting of ICAO's 36-member council, later on Thursday at a meeting that will also include government ministers from Poland, Lithuania and Belarus. Ryan will attend the meeting because Ryanair is registered in Ireland.

(This story corrects paragraph 5 to make clear ministers at the OECD's International Transport Forum did no agree a common position on Belarus issue)

(Reporting by Conor Humphries; editing by John Stonestreet, Alexandra Hudson)

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