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Serbian Airline Resumes Flights to US - 2003-09-18

After more than a decade of Balkan wars and flight bans, Serbia's national airline resumed flights to New York Thursday. It is to resume flying to the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, its former adversary, next week.

The Serbian airline JAT Airways resumed direct flights to New York Thursday, four days later than scheduled due to unexpected security concerns and administrative difficulties.

JAT Airways was barred from flights to the United States and Canada, as well as to the European Union, during a decade of sanctions against the former-Yugoslavia due to its role in the Balkan wars.

But since the transfer of the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic to the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague in 2001, political and trade relations between Serbia and the West have improved.

The commercial director of JAT Airways, Novica Vulic, says the weekly flights to New York are crucial because the North American market is very important for his company.

"The ethnic group from Serbia is very large in the United States and Canada and we are very happy of course that we are able to realize this flight," he said. "For us, the principal target is reaching ethnic groups living in the United States and to make and renew the relationship with the United States. For us that is very, very important."

The company is also looking for new markets closer to home, and even plans weekly flights to former enemy regions such as the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, which was besieged by Serbian forces in the early 1990s.

Mr. Vulic says he hopes the flights to Sarajevo will mark the beginning of reconciliation and cooperation between Serbs and non-Serbs in former Yugoslav regions.

"For me, it is important to recognize this initiative," said Novica Vulic. "And it is an open action and our offer to make our relationship the same as before. It's in a way a new, old thing."

In addition, JAT Airways will also fly to Ohrid in Macedonia from late October.