AIM
Whose is Trepca?

Ibrahim REXHEPI

SUN, 21 MAY 2000


Pristina, April 8, 2000 - The "Trepca" Combine in Mitrovica is still the pride of all Kosovars - the Albanians and Serbs alike. Even according to local analysts all problems of Mitrovica are linked to the fate of the largest lead and zinc producer in Yugoslavia and one of the largest in Europe.

Current situation in "Trepca" is unclear. Irrespective of their disagreements, the Albanians, divided between two management teams, want to control the Combine without the "Serbs, who have driven the Albanians away and mercilessly exploited the national wealth of Kosovo". The Serbs, rallied around Novak Bjelic, demand of UNMIK to create conditions which would permit them to start working. The international civil administration in Kosovo has not yet dealt with this problem because it is a "complex of major problems which should be clarified by the court".

The International Development Bank and the European Development Agency warned UNMIK to use caution in dealing with this problem so as not to make a wrong move, especially because "the problem of social property is not very clear and it involves many controversial issues".

"Trepca" which Milosevic used as a bait for many years, was always attractive to many international companies despite the sanctions which had been introduced against Serbia and Montenegro. Attractive enough for them to disregard these sanctions. On the contrary, "Trepca" made them to violate them!

Belgrade and Russia made $ 60 million worth Agreement in April 1990 in Belgrade. On the basis of that Agreement "Trepca" undertook to market 2 million worth car batteries and an additional quantity of paints, varnishes and gold and silver souvenirs on the Russian market. That same year, the American firm "Trigaduri" concluded a $ 76.3 million worth contract. It implied the export of 50 thousand tons of lead and zinc concentrates, 20 thousand tons of refined lead and 20 thousand tons of electrolysed zinc. Under the Contract, the American were supposed to pay "Trepca" $ 10 million.

Even today, the greatest reactions and controversies are raised by a contract signed between "Trepca" and a Greek company "Mitilineos" the implementation of which was guaranteed by "Jugobanka" and the "Genex" company. The total value of this deal amounted to $ 519 million and "Trepca" undertook to deliver to the Greeks lead an zinc in the value of $ 250 million. In return it was to receive concentrates necessary for the production and mining equipment.

In August 1997 a six-year contract was concluded with the Swedish firm "Atlas-Copk" under which the Kosovo Combine was to receive $ 20 million worth equipment.

Also, claims of a French businessman, Jean-Pierre Rozan, who was the largest dealer in Mitrovica silver in the last three years, that he used to buy as much as four tons of silver per month, sound quite probable. After the arrival of NATO forces to Kosovo and the introduction of UN civil administration, Mr.Rozan came to Kosovo on July 14, 1999, and, according to him, bought 51 percent of this Combine's shares from "Jugobanka", and in September that same year signed a contract with Novak Bjelic, Trepca's Serbian Director, appointed by Belgrade.

Adil Fetahu, a lawyer who for ten years followed all developments in Trepca, says that "The International Commercial Bank" owns 8 percent of Trepca's shares. UNMIK refuses to accept this forced game. There are indications that the Americans have been handed the "hot potato" called Trepca to find a way out of this vicious circle.

"For the Albanians "Trepca" is a source of life and prosperity. That is very important. Although it is generally believed that the workers can return to their old jobs from which they have been forced to leave some ten years ago, I am afraid that they still have many tears to shed. I think that what you had here ten years ago was no economy. It is better to turn to the future. Together with the Kosovo people we shall try to create a modern market economy. In such an economy, as I see it, I don't believe that everyone will get his old job back", is the opinion of Mr. Jolly Dickon, UNMIK's first man for the economy, on attempts of the Albanians, as well as Serbs to return to "Trepca".

Thus "Trepca" remains a major problem since it is not yet the moment to open this "Pandora's box".

"Problem are great, especially those with property rights. Anyone who thinks that he owns "Trepca" will have to prove it to the Court", said Mr. Renzo Davidi to the Kosovo economists several weeks ago.

However, the Albanians think differently: "Trepca" is ours irrespective of the fact that we are unable to control it in its entirety", says Burhan Kavaja, member of the Management Board appointed by trade Unions, headed by Aziz Abrashi, former long-standing Director of this Combine.

He claims that none of the Combine segments are working, apart from smeltery and refinery in Zvecane which are "controlled by the Serbs". They worked before the arrival of KFOR to Kosovo and are still working", goes on Kavaja. He is convinced that in the northern part of Kosovo, which is controlled by the Serbs, it is still possible to get ore necessary for further production to Zvecane. "The Serbs are working there undisturbed and never had any problems", claims Kavaja.

In the meantime, KFOR and UNMIK representatives deny Mr.Kavaja's claims. Irena Mingnason from the Development Agency says that she has no information about any production activities in Zvecane.

Although Trepca's production capacities are scattered all over Kosovo, it is hard to give any assessments as to who owns it. Albanians who were fired ten years ago and have returned to their old jobs there, refuse to recognise anything that the Serbs have "left behind". There are problems in Trepca's top management too. Who is running "Trepca"?

After KFOR entered Kosovo, now former, Thaqi's Provisional Government appointed Dr Safet Merovci, Professor at the Faculty of Economics, who had never worked in "Trepca", as Chairman of the Management Board. He is rejected both by the trade unionists, as well as the miners from Stari Trg, who only trust Aziz Abrashi and the old team. This can sound comical when we bear in mind the fact that neither Abrashi nor Merovci have access to all Trepca's mining and production facilities.

It is understandable why they cannot go to Zvecane and Leposavic mines in the north of Kosovo. The Stari Trg mine and processing capacities in Mitrovica are under Abrashi's control, which is why Merovci "has no management rights". He "controls" the mine and flotation in Kisnica and Novo Brdo. Novak Bjelic is in power in Zvecane and in the north of Kosovo.

Consequently, Trepca is divided into three parts, not on the basis of some economic rules or interests, but rather as a result of a kind of "tribe logic". This division doesn't coincide with the UNMIK's concept which is in favour of splitting "Trepca" into several smaller production units which would be capable of autonomous transformation.

The largest industrial centre of Kosovo is gradually disappearing in a thick fog. What for the impossibility of people to finally start earning for living, what for political problems linked to this divided town on the banks of the Ibar river. For the time being, it seems that neither the civil nor military international factors have a solution.

It is perhaps cynical, but the only good thing that has happened in this town is that after being the most polluted town in Europe, Mitrovica is now ranking lowest in Europe...



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