West hails Balkan deal to open Bosnia airspace

SARAJEVO, Jan 14, 2000 -- (Reuters) Aviation authorities in Bosnia, Croatia and Yugoslavia have agreed on reopening Bosnia's upper airspace for civilian overpass traffic from January 27, the Western body overseeing the peace process said on Thursday.

These air corridors were closed during NATO's March-to-June air war against Yugoslavia to halt Belgrade's repression in Kosovo province. Restrictions on such flights over Bosnia were first imposed during the country's 1992-1995 conflict.

"This important step towards normalizing the country's airspace brings Bosnia and Herzegovina closer to Europe and the rest of the world," the Office of the High Representative (OHR) said in a statement.

Zagreb and Belgrade would provide necessary air traffic control services, as Bosnia does not currently have the resources for this.

The three countries had also agreed on how to share fees from carriers using the airspace.

"The agreements will result in substantial revenue for Bosnia and Herzegovina, which will enable this country to start to build its own aviation infrastructure," the OHR said.

A spokesman for the OHR, which coordinates civilian efforts to rebuild Bosnia, said 30 percent of all European flight delays were a result of airspace in the region being closed.

"So opening up Bosnia's airspace is going to help free that bottleneck," spokesman James Ferguson told reporters. "It is of great value to the whole of Europe."

He said only temporary airspace agreements had been in place before NATO's 11-week bombing campaign, when no-fly zones were set up over Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, southern Hungary and Bosnia.

"It is the first proper and formal (airspace) agreement in 10 years between Bosnia and its neighbors," Ferguson said.

Bosnian daily Dnevni Avaz said there had been some civilian flight traffic in Bosnia's upper airspace also before the Kosovo war, but that a major increase was now expected.

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