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Gotabaya Rajapaksa lands in Maldives on Sri Lankan military flight

Updated 2315 GMT

Sri Lankan officials have confirmed that besieged president Gotabaya Rajapaksa has landed in the Maldives on a military flight, as he flees the island on his second confirmed attempt in as many days.

The latest confirmed attempt comes amidst unconfirmed reports that a military flight carrying Rajapaksa was reportedly seen taking off in the early hours of the morning from Colombo. The accused war criminal president, his wife and a bodyguard were all aboard an Antonov-32 military aircraft.

"Their passports were stamped and they boarded the special air force flight," an immigration official told AFP"There were some anxious moments, but in the end everything worked out OK," an airport official reportedly said.

It has been confirmed that the flight has landed in the Maldives just moments ago.

A Sri Lankan Air Force  Antonov 32, the aircraft Rajapaksa was reportedly attempting to flee to India (Courtesy: Sean d'Silva).

Fleeing before immunity runs out?

Rajapaksa, who is reportedly due to resign Wednesday, July 13, has been trying to flee the island since Saturday after tens of thousands of protesters stormed his official residence. 

The 73-year-old former defence secretary was reportedly trying to flee the country before he is scheduled to step down and lose immunity as a head of state that protects him from prosecution for a range of crimes. He reportedly fears being arrested and placed on trial where he could face prosecution for his financial crimes, as well as his genocide of Tamils.

On Monday night, as Rajapaksa and his wife attempted to leave the country at Colombo’s international airport, immigration officers were refusing to go to the VIP suite to stamp his passport. Rajapaksa reportedly refused to go through the public facilities, fearing reprisals from an already angry Sri Lankan public just days after protestors overran his official residence.

With the standoff continuing, Rajapaksa reportedly missed four flights to the United Arab Emirates, and he and his wife had to return to a nearby military base.

Read more in our feature: Stuck in Sri Lanka - Drama at Colombo airport as Rajapaksa attempts to flee

On Tuesday, the United States confirmed it refused to grant him a visitor’s visa, while India refused to let Rajapaksa land at a civilian airport in the country using an air force jet.  “It was made very clear to him that there will be no visa for him,” a representative from the US embassy in Colombo reportedly told SBS Sinhala.

The Indian government also refused to let  Rajapaksa land at a civilian airport in the country using an air force jet reports SBS Sinhala.

The role of Mohamed Nasheed

Unconfirmed reports claim Mohamed Nasheed, the current speaker of Maldives, helped broker a deal that allowed Rajapaksa to land in the Maldives.

Nasheed has held close ties to Sri Lanka, and particularly with former prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, after he was allowed to enter the country and set up base in Colombo after fleeing the Maldives in 2016. He continued to serve as a Maldivian opposition symbol from the Sri Lankan capital, before being allowed to return to the Maldives in 2018. He has maintained close ties with Colombo ever since, and recently condemned the burning of Wickremesinghe’s personal residence by Sri Lanka’s anti-government protestors.

Earlier this year, Nasheed publicly denounced a story in The Maldives Journal that reported on how the Speaker was brokering a safe passage for Gotabaya’s brother, Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family.

“A complete fabrication,” tweeted Nasheed in response.

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