Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka's president, fled to the Maldives on a military jet early this morning. The government has since attempted to create a narrative through various local news outlets that the military aircraft was cleared to land in the Maldives by Majlis Speaker Mohamed Nasheeed.
Military aircraft need diplomatic clearance, and may not land in foreign countries without prior permission.
The Foreign Minister's Permission
A former executive of the Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) told The Maldives Journal, on the condition of anonymity, that four categories of flights require diplomatic clearance. These categories are aircraft travelling on a military mission, aircrafts carrying the heads of any state, aircraft belonging to a government's commercial airline, and aircraft engaged in humanitarian aid.
The clearance required by these aircraft prior to landing in the Maldives would be granted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the former executive. The MACL would provide the Ministry with the time-slot during which the aircraft was expected to land.
A head of the Maldives Immigration Service had stated that, as per normal protocol, Maldives Immigration had been informed of Rajapaksa's arrival ahead of time.
The Defence Ministry's Role with Foreign Military Aircraft
The former Operations Director of Maldivian Capt. Mohamed Ameen told The Maldives Journal that any military aircraft entering Maldivian airspace would require to seek a defence clearance beforehand.
"The Maldives' aircraft controllers would have to grant a defence clearance", he said. "The two responsible bodies are the Maldivian Ministry of Defence, and Civil Aviation. Civil Aviation would only clear the aircraft if the Ministry of Defence have already cleared them for landing".
"The Maldives does not have the capacity to obstruct, deter, or even shoot down a military aircraft", said Capt. Ameen. "However, a military aircraft would enter Maldivian airspace with a defence clearance. The Defence Ministry would give the Air Traffic Control tower the clearance to let the aircraft land".
He stated that Rajapaksa's aircraft had landed in Velana International Airport last night with the full permission of the various bodies of the Maldivian government.
Nasheed Cannot Grant Diplomatic Clearance
A career diplomat who had worked for many years at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told The Maldives Journal that according to the protocols of the Foreign Ministry, the Majlis Speaker had no authority to grant any clearances for a military aircraft approaching the Maldives.
"Granting diplomatic clearance is an executive power", said the veteran diplomat. "It has nothing to do with the Majlis' presidency". He said that the clearance could only be granted by the Foreign Minister himself, or by whomever who was in charge of the Ministry at that time.
The Foreign Ministry would also inform the President's Office is a foreign head of state is arriving in the country. If the aircraft is military, the Ministry would also receive a manifest of all the passengers, and all of the aircraft's cargo.
"No foreign head of state could enter the country without President Solih's knowledge", he said.
The Government's Silence, the Blame on Nasheed
While the Foreign Ministry has not made any statement regarding Rajapaksa's flight to the Maldives, local and foreign news outlets have reported that Majlis Speaker Mohamed Nasheed was solely responsible for allowing the Sri Lankan president to enter the country.
An anonymous source at the President's Office told The Maldives Journal that the government had deliberately remained silent on the matter to let the Majlis Speaker "take the blame".
The source said that although Speaker Nasheed had received Rajapaksa at the airport, all of the heavy lifting to let Rajapaksa flee to the Maldives had been undertaken by the government. The source said that Nasheed did not have the authority to arrange the flight by himself.