Flying into Kosovo is an interesting affair. It is not a simple matter. While the direct route is the fastest route, it is not the one travelled. As I was flying from Vienna to Prishtina the pilot came on the intercom and announced, “Today our route from Vienna will take us through Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Macedonia, whereupon we will enter Kosovo.”
Air traffic has followed these procedures since 1999, when NATO and UNMIK began administering Kosovo. Serbia does not recognize UNMIK’s interim administration of Kosovo and continues to consider Kosovo a province of Serbia. Therefore, it does not recognize the Prishtina Airport and states that it is closed.
This situation is not merely an inconvenience. An incident that occurred on 3 of May had potentially life-threatening consequences. A plane bound for Prishtina International Airport declared an emergency and asked for clearance to divert through Serbian airspace in order to land at the Sofia Airport.
Balkan Insight sources within Pristina Airport confirmed the information. “The airplane had problems with gears and needed a longer runway for secure landing,” a source said. “That’s why they diverted the flight to Sofia,” (“Exclusive: Serbia, UN in Emergency Plane Row“, Balkan Insight, 18 May 2008).
However, Belgrade air traffic controllers refused to allow the plane to enter Serbian airspace. In response to the situation, Joachim Ruecker (head of the United Nations Mission in Kosovo), sent a letter to the outgoing Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, expressing his concern regarding the endangerment of human lives.
“I must protest in the strongest terms the danger posed to human life by Belgrade ACC in contravention of internationally applicable norms.”
The Full Text of the Letter from Joachim Ruecker to Vojislav Kostunica
Both Serbia and Montenegro’s Area Control Centers (ACC) have special instructions regarding Kosovo airspace. The following information regarding procedures for Kosovo’s airspace is taken from the Serbia and Montenegro vitual Area Control Center:
About Kosovo province
It is very important to understand that since 1999 the airspace of Kosovo province is not under direct supervision of ACC Beograd. This is the area NATO-UNMIK protectorate, so all ATC operations are provided by NATO Controllers. Only traffic originating from or arriving to Pristina (LYPR / PRN) may enter airspace of Kosovo province. Other traffic, which is on enroute flight, should always avoid this province, except NATO flights, flying in Lower airspace.
Traffic arriving to or originating from Pristina should always enter/exit airspace of Kosovo from/to the south, via Skopje FIR (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia-FYROM). Enter point is XAXAN, exit point is SARAX intersection (XAXAN can also be exit point but only with ATC authorization). Entering/exiting airspace of Kosovo from/to Beograd ACC is not approved.
Flight Plan to Enter and Exit Kosovo
The issue of UNMIK’s administration does not end merely with flight plans. Since 1999 UNMIK has issued travel documents to Kosovar citizens. However, Serbia does not recognize passports or travel documents issued by UNMIK and Kosovar citizens with these documents cannot enter into Serbia.
In order to enter Serbia (or travel into Montenegro, Macedonia or Bulgaria from Serbian borders) Kosovars have begun to exchange their UNMIK documents for Serbian passports (which maintain the name Yugoslavia).
UNMIK and Serbian Passport
The travel documents issued by UNMIK do not merely cause problems for Kosovars. The UNMIK stamp issued by customs when flying into Prishtina Airport also causes problems for visitors. Travelers who enter Kosovo prior to travelling elsewhere in Serbia cannot enter through any border that Kosovo shares with Serbia. Travellers must first exit Kosovo through Macedonia, and then re-enter Serbia through the border that Macedonia shares with Serbia.
Vuko Antonijevic, the president of the Serbian government’s Coordination Center for Kosovo, says that the government has every right to refuse to recognize UNMIK documents.
“UNMIK has no right to introduce any kind of travel document. Unfortunately the [Serbian] government was initially caught off guard, given that one set of officials should have remained in Kosovo to issue travel documents,” Antonijevic says. “Freedom of movement is certainly a problem, but what can I do?” (“Kosovo: Trouble at the Border“, Radio Free Europe, 11 September 2007).
One of the new responsibilities of the Kosovo government will be to issue Republic of Kosova travel documents. While this is another sign of statehood, it does not change the fact that Serbia will not recognize the documents. This political reality will continue to restrict Kosovar freedom of movement–unless one has a Serbian passport.
Posted By Nicole Slezak
Posted Jun 18th, 2007