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Serbia, Kosovo Sign Deal To Restore Direct Air Link

Serbia's Milun Trivunac (left to right), U.S. envoys Richard Grenell and Robert C. O'Brien, Eurowings managing director Michael Knitter, and Kosovo's Eset Berisha pose for a photo at a press conference in Berlin on January 20.

PRISTINA/BELGRADE -- U.S. diplomats have overseen the signing of an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo on the resumption of commercial flights between the two Balkan states, a rare sign of cooperation between the two neighbors.

Serbian, Kosovar, and NATO leaders on January 20 welcomed the signing of the deal to reopen the air link that was broken two decades ago, when the 1998-99 Kosovo conflict escalated.

Relations between Pristina and Belgrade have remained strained after the war that claimed more than 10,000 lives and left over 1 million people homeless.

Serbia continues to consider its former province part of its territory, although its independence, declared in 2008, has been recognized by about 100 countries, including the United States.

The agreement to restore commercial flights between the Serbian and Kosovar capitals, Belgrade and Pristina, was signed at the U.S. Embassy in Berlin by Milun Trivunac, state secretary of Serbia's Ministry of Economy, and Eset Berisha, director-general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Kosovo.

Kosovar President Hashim Thaci described the development "an important step for the movement of citizens & normalization process," and thanked U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell, who also serves as President Donald Trump's special envoy for Serbia and Kosovo, and U.S. national-security adviser Robert O'Brien for facilitating the process.

The director of the Serbian government's Office for Kosovo, Marko Djuric, said Belgrade and Pristina "could soon be connected by an airline, for the first time in 20 years."

However, Djuric said Kosovo must withdraw its 100 percent trade tariff and dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina should resume before the air link can open.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg described the deal as "an important step, which will make the circulation of people and goods easier and faster within the Western Balkans region."

The 25-minute flight between Belgrade and Pristina would be operated by Lufthansa's budget carrier, Eurowings.

Currently, it takes more than five hours to travel from Belgrade to Pristina.