Serbia and Kosovo agree to resume flights
Serbia and Kosovo have agreed to resume direct commercial flights for the first time since the province broke away from Belgrade in 1999.
The United States helped broker the agreement in an effort to normalise relations.
Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaci, said the deal was reached with the “contribution” of Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, and the US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell.
Flights ended in 1998 when war broke out in Kosovo between the Serbian armed forces and ethnic-Albanian insurgents.
Eurowings, German Lufthansa’s budget subsidiary, is due to fly the 520km route that takes around six hours by road.
The deal was signed at the US Embassy in Berlin. It “marks another step in our efforts to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia”, said Thaci.
But the deals requires Kosovo to lift a 100 per cent tax on Serb imports.
Grenell, an outspoken Trump appointee, praised the deal on Twitter.
“President @realdonaldtrump once again led us to a historic victory. Kosovo and Serbia today signed an agreement to create the first direct flight between Pristina & Belgrade in 21 years. Thank you @lufthansa, @NATO, @robertcobrien and the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia,” the controversial ambassador tweeted.
The hawkish Grenell was appointed in October 2019 as a special envoy for Serbia-Kosovo talks.
Kosovo is recognised by more than 110 countries but not by Serbia, Russia or China.
If Kosovo manages to establish relations with Serbia, it can apply for United Nations membership, which is currently blocked by Russia.
EU-brokered talks to normalise relations ended in November 2018 when Kosovo enforced the 100 per cent tax on imports from Serbia.
Kosovo’s two biggest parties are still struggling to form a new government which is widely expected to scrap the tariffs.
Thaci yesterday (Monday) nominated Albin Kurti as the next prime minister, more than three months after an inconclusive general election.
Kurti, leader of the left-wing Self-Determination Movement (Vetevendosje), won the most seats in the October 6 election.
Kurti has 15 days to pick a cabinet and seek parliamentary approval.
Vetevendosje won 29 seats in the 120-member chamber and is looking to form a government with the centre-right Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, which has 28 MPs.
The parties disagree on who will be appointed Kosovo’s next president after Thaci’s term ends in 2021.
Kurti said Vetevendosje and LDK were ready to hold “further talks to find an alternative acceptable for both parties”.
“We are obliged in front of all of you to return to the table of negotiations and not leave it until we find the joint language and reach an agreement,” he said on Facebook.
Pristina’s airport opened in 2013. Picture credit: Wikimedia