Serbia hints UAE's Etihad may invest in JAT airline next week

BELGRADE, April 10 (Reuters) - Serbia's JAT Airways will

meet a delegation from Etihad Airways next week, a Serbian

government official said on Wednesday, raising speculation the

Abu Dhabi-based carrier could take a 49 percent stake in the

indebted airline.

Serbia has been trying without success to offload the

airline for years and Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic said last

month that Etihad was interested in a long-term partnership in

which the expanding Gulf airline would take a 49 percent stake.

"The Etihad delegation will meet with their counterparts

from JAT and they will then have a joint press conference to

announce some hopefully good news," said a government official

who asked not to be named.

The Serbian government said last month it was ready to take

on 170 million euros ($218.6 million) of JAT debt, pay leases

for six new aircraft from EADS's Airbus and secure

severance payments for redundant workers.

JAT currently operates 10 ageing Boeing 737-300s and

four ATR 72-200 turboprop aircraft on 30

routes within Europe and to the Middle East.

With Europe in economic crisis, Serbia is looking east for

investment.

It has secured a $400 million sovereign loan from Abu Dhabi

for agriculture investment and agreed more than $400 million in

investment by the Al Dahra agricultural firm based in the

emirate.

($1 = 0.7777 euros)

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)