South Africa has said a plane carrying the security personnel accompanying President Cyril Ramaphosa on a peace mission to Ukraine was held up in Poland, in an incident that sparked a diplomatic squabble.
A charter flight carrying security forces and journalists was blocked upon landing at Warsaw Chopin Airport on Thursday, with Polish authorities not allowing those on board to disembark, South African officials said on Friday.
"We're deeply disturbed by the experience they've gone through," Ramaphosa's spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said in a statement, describing the incident as "regrettable".
The Polish government said some of those on board did not have permission to carry weapons into the country and were thus not allowed to disembark.
"They were not given permission to leave the plane with their weapons. They considered that they would remain on board," said the country's deputy minister for special services, Stanislaw Zaryn.
Magwenya said South African officials were working to resolve the impasse, which earlier triggered an outburst from the head of Ramaphosa's security, who accused Polish authorities of racism, a charge Zaryn dismissed as "nonsense".
'We have permits'
The plane left Pretoria early on Thursday, reportedly carrying about 120 people, in between security personnel and journalists. The group was meant to follow Ramaphosa on his trip to Kiev as part of an African leaders' peace mission.
In an impromptu on-board press conference, the head of presidential security Major General Wally Rhoode said they "have permits," albeit admitting some members of the delegation only had copies of the required papers.
On Friday afternoon, some journalists aboard the aircraft reported they had been finally allowed to disembark after more than 24 hours on the tarmac, although it was not immediately clear whether they would be allowed to travel onwards.
Magwenya said authorities were hoping the security team would be allowed to join Ramaphosa for the second leg of the peace talks on Saturday in Russia.
Mission going 'as planned'
Ramaphosa had arrived in Warsaw separately aboard the Inkwazi presidential jet, after attending a UN summit in Geneva, Switzerland.
Following a short meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda, he headed to Rzeszow, near the Ukrainian border, and then on to Kiev by train, according to the presidential office.
"Notwithstanding the hitches that have been experienced in Poland... the rest of the mission is proceeding quite well and as planned," Magwenya said. "The president arrived safely in Kiev."
The delegation of African leaders and government representatives arrived in Ukraine on Friday on a peace mission aimed at persuading Russia and Ukraine to start a dialogue to end the 16-month-long conflict.
In addition to Ramaphosa, the seven-nation peace mission includes Comoros President Azali Assoumani, Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema, and Senegalese President Macky Sall. The presidents of Egypt, Republic of the Congo, and Uganda sent representatives.
Ramaphosa was welcomed by Maksym Subhk, Ukraine's special envoy for Africa and the Middle East, at Nemishaeve Railway Station in Ukraine.
Reports said the leaders’ visit to Kiev was interrupted by air raid sirens and explosions.
They are expected to hold talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kiev before travelling to St Petersburg on Saturday to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.
African leaders arrived in Poland late on Thursday, where they were received by Polish President Andrzej Duda, who presented his country’s perspective on the conflict.