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Snowden "healthy and safe", whereabouts undisclosed


09:29, June 25, 2013

MOSCOW, June 24 (Xinhua) -- Minutes after the jet bridge of a Moscow-Havana flight disembarked on Monday, journalists dashing to seat 17A got disappointed as Edward Snowden, the U.S. intelligence whistleblower, was not there.

Snowden, charged by the U.S. government with three felonies, including two under the Espionage Act, reportedly arrived in Moscow's Sheremetyevo international airport on Sunday and was expected to take Aeroflot flight SU150 to Havana, Cuba on Monday.

Media reports differed on his whereabouts and his next possible destination. Some even went as far as questioning whether the 30- year-old had ever set his feet in Moscow.

Speculations soared when Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino Aroca, on an official visit to Vietnam, said Sunday via Twitter that his government had received an asylum request from Snowden.

On Monday, Patino told a news conference in Hanoi that the Ecuadorian government was "analyzing and considering the request."

Xinhua reporters at Sheremetyevo on Sunday saw two cars from the Ecuadorian embassy in Russia parked outside the airport. One car later left with embassy staff.

Local media said the whistleblower was not allowed to get out of the airport and had to stay in the terminal's transit zone until boarding another flight since he has no Russian visa.

On Monday, Xinhua reporters saw the same car from the Ecuadorian embassy en route to Sheremetyevo. At least three people were in the car.

Later in the day when the car was back at the embassy compound, there was only the driver.

Dozens of reporters packed in front the embassy, trying to grab a headline story but went away with merely "no comments."

Employees of the embassy told Xinhua via telephone that they did not know the whereabouts of Snowden.

The Interfax news agency said an official U.S. request "has arrived through diplomatic channels for Snowden's detention and deportation."

Meanwhile, Russian human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said Monday that Washington had no rights to demand Russia arrest and extradite fugitive intelligence leaker.

Lukin said the former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor had not committed any crime in Russia, nor have Russian authorities received any instructions from the International Criminal Police Organization on his arrest.

"Thus we have no grounds for his detention," the official said.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said Monday that Snowden was safe and sound in a secure place, Russia Today reported.

"The current status of Mr. Snowden and (Sarah) Harrison is that both are healthy and safe and they are in contact with their legal teams," Assange said, giving no information on their whereabouts.

Harrison is a WikiLeaks representative accompanying Snowden.

Describing Snowden "not a traitor, but a whistleblower who told the public the important truth," Assange said he was given a refugee document of passage by the Ecuadorian government.

Snowden is a former CIA agent and was also employed on a freelance basis by the NSA. He fled to Hong Kong last month and revealed a U.S. classified surveillance project code-named PRISM, which can trace worldwide emails and phones calls.

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