Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Sunday informed Russian authorities that the grounding of an Aeroflot passenger plane with 200 people on board at the Colombo airport, was because of a private lawsuit and not due to an issue between the two countries.
Wickremesinghe conveyed this information via the Secretary of the Foreign Ministry, while the Justice Minister has directed to expedite the case.
In a statement, the Ministry said “this matter is under consultation through normal diplomatic channels”, adding that it was still pending final determination of the court.
Amidst diplomatic tension, the Attorney General’s Department is working to call the case on Monday before Wednesday, the scheduled date of the hearing, in order speed up the case, legal sources told IANS.
Meanwhile, Cabinet Minister Dinesh Gunawardena has urged authorities to resolve the issue soon before it causes major damage to the bilateral ties.
However Russia was quick to protest over the grounding of the Aeroflot flight on June 2 and suspended all commercial flights to Colombo.
The Russian Foreign Ministry had also summoned the Sri Lankan envoy in Moscow to express its strong objection.
“We urged the Sri Lankan side to settle this problem as soon as possible to avoid its negative impact on traditionally friendly bilateral relations,” Foreign Ministry had told Sri Lanka, Ambassador Janitha A. Liyanage, as per Russian media reports.
The Russian-operated Aeroflot Airbus SU 289 landed at the Colombo airport on June 2 with 191 passengers and 13 crew members on board. The plane was stopped from leaving for Moscow following a court order obtained by Irish aircraft leasing company, Celestial Aviation Trading.
The court order to ground the plane was obtained over a commercial dispute with the Irish company which has leased the aircraft to Aeroflot.
The passengers and the crew were taken to hotels.
Aeroflot officials informed Sri Lanka that the grounding came at a time when the island nation has given a state guarantee to Russia that its aircraft could be flown to the country.
With the invasion of Ukraine in February 24, amidst severe sanctions by the West, Aeroflot had suspended all international flights in March.
However Sri Lanka, with diplomatic and economic ties with Russia, resumed operations to Colombo from April onwards.
According to tourism figures, Russia makes up for leading international arrivals with 16 per cent all foreign holiday makers to the island nation.
The cash-strapped Sri Lanka is also awaiting fuel from Russia with a 90,000-tonne consignment to restart the country’s only oil refinery which came to a halt on March 25 as there was no fuel to operate it.