Kosovo, Serbia aim to restore direct flight

Serbia and Kosovo have taken steps to restore a direct flight between their capitals in a deal brokered by the US, officials said Monday, signalling a rare act of goodwill and cooperation between the former war foes.

The air link between Belgrade and Pristina — a connection dropped after war broke out between them two decades ago — would be provided by Eurowings, the low-cost subsidiary of the German Lufthansa Group, the airline said. 

Eurowings COO Michael Knitter told AFP a memorandum of understanding was signed in Berlin after “intensive negotiations” conducted by the US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell.

Grenell was appointed last year to serve as a special envoy between Serbia and Kosovo’s peace talks. 

On Twitter the diplomat hailed US President Donald Trump for the “historic victory”, saying the Balkan neighbours had “signed an agreement to create the first direct flight between Pristina & Belgrade in 21 years”.

The launch date has not yet been decided, according to Eurowings.

The announcement came as an a unexpected breakthrough between Kosovo and Serbia, whose relationship is still poisoned by resentment from the 1998-99 conflict in which Kosovo split off and went on to declare independence.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci hailed it on Twitter as an “important step for the movement of citizens & normalization process”.

Yet in Belgrade, the chief official in charge of Kosovo relations, Marko Djuric, cautioned that the flight might not run until other outstanding issues are dealt with. 

“This line could indeed be established when the taxes are lifted,” he said, referring to Kosovo’s 100 percent tariff on Serbian goods, a move that has frozen EU-led talks to normalise their ties for more than a year. 

Serbia formally lost control of Kosovo after a 1999 NATO intervention forced its troops to withdraw from their war with ethnic Albanian separatists, a conflict that cost 13,000 lives.

Yet Belgrade still rejects its former province’s independence, a chronic source of tension in the region. 

Today it is possible to travel by car and bus between the two capitals in around five hours, though disagreements over Kosovo’s statehood can make paperwork complicated for travellers. 

While the US and most of Western Europe recognise the independence Kosovo declared in 2008, Belgrade and its allies Moscow and Beijing do not.