Serbia to return Iraqi fighter planes after 20 years

September 1st, 2009 - 5:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Belgrade, Sep 1 (DPA) Days after Serbia signed a $100 million arms contract with Iraq, Baghdad is asking Belgrade to return 19 fighter planes that were sent to Serbia in 1989 for servicing, Belgrade media reported Tuesday.
The Iraqi Defence Ministry sent a note Monday to Serbian authorities demanding the return of MiG-21 and MiG-23 planes as soon as possible, and a delegation had gone to Serbia over the weekend to start the process, the daily Vecernje Novosti reported.

Complicating the return of the planes is the fact that most of them had been disassembled, and parts were stored in army warehouses, Vecernje Novosti reported. Only one MiG-23, on display in Belgrade’s Air Force museum, is whole, the daily said.

When the planes were first sent to Serbia, they were to be repaired in the Croatian factory Zmaj. The war in Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the Gulf War of 1990-91 put an end to those repair plans, and the planes were later returned to Serbia upon withdrawal of the Serbian army from Croatia.

Serbian officials say they are ready to return the planes to Iraq, adding that Serbian Defence Minister Dragan Sutanovac was the one who told Iraqi officials about the jets.

Serbia is eager to renew cooperation with Iraq. The country’s defence industry had been a major exporter before the breakup of Yugoslavia, with foreign sales reaching $2 billion annually.

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