KOSOVO and Serbia, on Monday, agreed to launch direct commercial flights after a two-decade interval in a deal mediated by the U.S. in an attempt to push the two former foes closer to normalizing relations.
The agreement was signed at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin.
Direct flights were halted in 1998 when war broke out in Kosovo between ethnic Albanian insurgents and Serbian security forces.
Serbia lost control of Kosovo after NATO bombing in 1999 to drive out Serb forces, ending a counter-insurgency in which more than 13,000 people, mainly Kosovo Albanians, were killed.
The President of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, said that the event marks another step in the country’s efforts to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
Thaci said the agreement was reached with the contribution of the U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, and U.S. Ambassador to Berlin, Richard Grenell.
Grenell was appointed by Trump in Oct. 2019, as a special envoy for talks between Belgrade and Pristina.
“President Donald Trump once again led us to a historic victory,” Grenell said.
There were no details on when the flights would start but officials in Kosovo said that Eurowings, a low-cost company owned by Lufthansa, would be involved.
The road distance from Pristina to Belgrade is 350 km (or 218 miles), around four hours by car.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg commended the development and urged for its sustainability.
NATO has some 4,000 peacekeepers in Kosovo and is responsible for the control of Kosovo’s airspace.
“This is an important step which will make the circulation of people and goods easier and faster within the Western Balkans region,” Stoltenberg said.
Kosovo has now been recognized by more than 110 countries including the U.S., but not by Serbia, Russia or China.
The U.S. and the EU have encouraged Serbia and Kosovo to normalize relations. If they do, Kosovo would be able to apply for membership of the UN, a move that Serbia’s old ally Russia is currently blocking.
Talks between Kosovo and Serbia to normalize relations came to a halt in Nov. 2018 when Kosovo introduced a 100 percent tax on goods produced in Serbia.
Meanwhile, Belgrade, which still considers Kosovo as part of its territory, said it would not return in the negotiating table until the tariffs were lifted.
– Jan. 20, 2020 @ 19:49 GMT |