YU says Nato planes violated its airspace

BELGRADE, Feb 17, 2000 -- (Reuters) Yugoslavia accused NATO on Wednesday of violating its airspace twice this month, prompting it to temporarily close a Montenegrin airport.

Yugoslav Transport Minister Dejan Drobnjakovic said alliance planes had been spotted on February 10 and February 14.

Yugoslav flight control closed the Tivat airport in southern Montenegro on Monday, the day of the second sighting, out of concern about safety. Montenegro and Serbia together form Yugoslavia.

The airport was reopened on Wednesday, Drobnjakovic told a news conference.

"On February 10, a pilot of Adria Airways flying from Ljubljana to Tirana reported a presence of another aircraft at a height of 8,200 metres in the zone of Budva, Montenegro. That was NATO's plane. It was a classic near-miss," he said.

"That was a flagrant violation of regulations and of Yugoslavia's territory, endangering the safety of Montenegro."

"On February 14, a pilot of Cyprus Airlines, flying from London to Larnaca reported a presence of several unknown aircraft around the point KONU, covering the area between Dubrovnik (in Croatia) and Herceg Novi (in Montenegro)."

Drobnjakovic said Croatian flight control had confirmed the aircraft reported were NATO planes.

He said the decision to reopen the airport was based on a response from the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which he said had contacted NATO on the issue.

Montenegrin state radio reported on Tuesday that Yugoslav flight control had closed the airport after NATO asked it to do so because of planned exercises.

A NATO spokesman in Brussels denied on Tuesday that any such exercises were being held in the region.

A Yugoslav flight control official said the airport had been closed because of NATO activity, but added that the alliance had not informed Belgrade about its plans.

"According to civil aviation rules, NATO was obliged to report its activities 48 hours before their start in the form of a NOTAM - notification to airman. They never sent a NOTAM," flight control director Miodrag Hadzic told Reuters.

He said the civilian planes that had reported the incidents had the evidence recorded on a tape.

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