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KLM returns to Zimbabwe after 13 years

By AFP

Royal Dutch Airlines KLM will resume flights between Harare and Amsterdam in October, 13 years after it stopped plying the route, the airline said Tuesday.

The first flight to Zimbabwe will be on October 29, 2012 and served in combination with a new KLM destination to neighbouring Zambia's capital, Lusaka.

KLM, which is part of the larger Air France-KLM group, said in a statement that Zimbabwe is "a strong growth market with a wide array of natural resources."

Its announcement came a day after the European Union said it was ready to lift sanctions if the country holds credible vote on a constitutional referendum.

Most international airlines, including Air France, Lufthansa and Quantas pulled out of Zimbabwe over the past decade citing dwindling passenger numbers as tourists were scared off by political violence.

The airline said it will offer 11 weekly services to Harare via Nairobi, in co-operation with Kenya Airways, in which KLM has a 26 percent stake.

Flag carrier Air Zimbabwe has in recent months downsized because of frequent strikes and huge debts as the company tries to maintain an ageing fleet.

Foreign airlines are coming in to fill up the space. Emirates began flying between Zimbabwe and Dubai via Lusaka in February.

Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and South African Airways are some of the regional airlines that maintained services into Zimbabwe despite the political turmoil.

Air Zimbabwe now flies to domestic destinations only.

Its pilots went on strike for several months last year over unpaid salaries and allowances as the airline is saddled with $100 million in debt.