PRISTINA Oct 5 Kosovo's government plans to
make a renewed bid to take control of a huge mining complex and
save it from bankruptcy despite strong objections from Serbia
which claims it owns the business.
The Trepca lead, zinc and silver mines once employed 20,000
people and accounted for most of former Yugoslavia's mineral
wealth. Now far smaller and with estimated debts of 1.4 billion
euros ($1.6 billion) it is still Kosovo's largest company.
Serbia claims it owns Trepca and other big companies in its
former province. Kosovo says Serbia lost rights to
state-controlled enterprises on Kosovar territory when forces
under late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic massacred and
expelled ethnic Albanians in a 1998-99 counter-insurgency
Parliament is expected to pass a law to cement control of
the Trepca complex on Friday over the objections of Serb
ministers in the government, which is dominated by ethnic
Under the proposed law, the government will own 80 percent
of the complex and 20 percent will be owned by its miners. The
government will also sort through all the creditor claims,
mainly from Serbia but also from a number of Greek investors.
Trepca, which operates at a minimum output level sufficient
only to keep the mines operational, has been held in trust
during the impasse by an agency created by the United Nations
tasked with selling state property following the 1998-99 war.
But the new institution that has run Trepca since Kosovo's
2008 declaration of independence - the Kosovo Privatization
Agency (KPA) - has failed to come up with a plan for Trepca's
future and now the complex risks bankruptcy.
Serbia has long sought for the issue of Trepca's ownership
to be put on the agenda of talks mediated by the European Union
to ease tensions between the two nations in the aftermath of
Kosovo's violent break from Serbia.
"Trepca's assets are the property of the Republic of Kosovo
and this is not negotiable," Kosovo's Prime Minister Isa Mustafa
said during a cabinet meeting.
Complicating matters, part of the Trepca complex lies inside
Serbia and another part is within a small northern pocket of
Kosovo populated by ethnic Serbs who side with Belgrade in
refusing to recognise Kosovo's sovereignty.
($1 = 0.8915 euros)
(Editing by Thomas Escritt and David Clarke)