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French NATO jet sent on Latvian intercept mission

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10:54 CEST+02:00

A French NATO jet was scrambled Tuesday to intercept three unidentified aircraft over Latvian airspace, the Baltic state's defence minister said, as news reports said the planes were German.

"The French Mirage did its duty very well," Latvian defence minister Artis Pabriks told AFP.

"Planes appeared on our screens which were unidentified and not responding. We were not too worried, but the principle is that there must be identification, so we followed the procedures," he added.

The Mirage 2000C interceptor took off from NATO's Siauliai airbase in Lithuania after three small jet aircraft were detected flying over neighbouring Latvia.

France currently holds the rotating duties of patrolling the airspace of ex-Soviet Latvia, Lithuania and fellow Baltic state Estonia, whose own air forces lack suitable aircraft for the job despite being NATO members since 2004.

The French jet successfully forced the unidentified aircraft to land at the Adazi military base in Latvia, where the pilots were held by police.

They turned out to be German civilians who had travelled via Poland and Lithuania who had not followed correct flight plan procedures, the Baltic News Service reported.

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