Is another outbreak of war looming in Kosovo?

The Battle of Mitrovica is not about visiting cousins - it's about the Trepca mine

By Mary Mostert

February 24, 2000

The lead Associated Press and CNN stories Monday reported that 25,000 ethnic Albanians have marched for miles through the snow to attempt to force their way into Mitrovica, where the last few Serbs in Kosovo are living. All the Serbs in other parts of Kosovo, including the capitol Pristina, have been driven out or killed. Now the Albanians are challenging the KFOR troops who are guarding Mitrovica to force their way in. Eleven people have been killed in this effort in the past week or so, and KFOR soldiers have been wounded.

Why, do you suppose, 25,000 city dwellers would march 25-30 miles through the snow in the middle of winter to try to get across the bridge into Mitrovica? Carlotta Gall, a New York Times reporter covering the story in Kosovo must have asked the question. "We want to liberate the other side," said Shyrete Gela, a 35 year old optician who lives in Mitrovica, as she took shelter in a shop from the clouds of tear gas. "I have cousins who live over there. My friend has her flat there too but Serbs are living there now. Serbs killed my brother, you know. And now people came from Pristina to help us liberate the city, so we must run with them."

An MSNBC report quoted a similar comment from another Albanian marcher: "With this peaceful march, we want to make it clear to the whole world that (Kosovska) Mitrovica cannot be partitioned, because it means very much for all the people of Kosovo," said Jeton Balaj, 24, a student participating in the march.

So, according to all these reports from top world news sources,all the poor Albanians want is to be able to visit their kinfolk on the other side of the river and it just means so much to them and the unreasonable KFOR troops are preventing them from doing that.

Really? How come none of these reports are mentioning another minor little fact concerning Mitrovica - the Trepca Mine? The mine is owned by the Serbs and a Greek mining firm, Mytilinaios SA who signed a contract with Serbian agency of foreign trade in 1998 to invest $519 Billion in the mine. It was part of a deal in which one third of the mineral production of the mine would belong to the Greeks who would sell the minerals in the international market and would also upgrade mining equipment and facilities. "Trepca mines are on the list of companies soon to be privatised, thus allowing the Greek company to buy stock," the report said. (See Athens News Agency Report at

We are getting another dose of Albanian propaganda designed to lull an uninformed American electorate into believing that the bombing of Kosovo was all about "humanitarianism." The Trepca mine explains why KFOR troops have been determined to keep the KLA terrorists, their former allies, from seizing Mitrovica. NATO has no desire to see the KLA control the minerals in that mine. It would appear that NATO wants the mine for its own use, not that of the unstable Albanians.

So, what to do? Blame it on Milosevic, of course! U.S. Ambassador to the UN, William Holbrooke, was the key figure in developing the so-called "humanitarian crisis" following the death of 43 ethnic Albanians at Racak. He accepted, and broadcast the KLA story that the Albanians were innocent civilians "slaughtered" by the Serb forces. French news reports have cast considerable doubt on that story. Half the dead Albanians were killed KLA soldiers killed in a gun battle with Serb forces. The other half were killed at short range after the Serbs had withdrawn. The French reporter believed they were moderates who did not support the KLA and were executed in time to show the bodies to Holbrooke. Yesterday Holbrooke was reported as saying the turmoil at Mitrovica was Milosevic's fault! Supposedly Milosevic is inciting the a few thousand remaining Serbs in Mitrovica to take on the burgeoning Albanian population, which UN figures show has grown from 1.8 million before the bombing started in March 1999 to 2.3 million by December 1999.

On July 8, 1998, the New York Times outlined the Trepca Mine situation in an article by Chris Hedges entitled: "Below It All in Kosovo, A War's Glittering Prize." Describing a trip into the mine he said, in part: "As the iron box rattled and squealed on the ear-popping journey, dropping at 18 feet a second, it left behind the potent symbols of nationalism and ethnic identity scattered in disarray on the ground above. Instead, in the shrill cacophony, it exposed the real worth of Kosovo.

The medieval Serbian monasteries and churches, crumbling mosques with silver domes and spindly minarets and a dark stone tower brooding over the Field of Blackbirds, where the Turks wiped out Serbian nobles 600 years ago and began 500 years of Ottoman rule, seemed to evaporate in the thin air.

...Half a mile underground, hissing rubber air hoses were looped along tunnel walls and small lights hooked on the hard hats of miners bobbed in the inky universe. Worm-like diesel loaders roared through the corridors, laden with sparkling ore, and huge drills snarled and spat at the rock.

"There is over 30 percent lead and zinc in the ore," said Novak Bjelic, the mine's beefy director. "The war in Kosovo is about the mines, nothing else. This is Serbia's Kuwait -- the heart of Kosovo. We export to France, Switzerland, Greece, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Russia and Belgium.

"We export to a firm in New York, but I would prefer not to name it. And in addition to all this Kosovo has 17 billion tons of coal reserves. Naturally, the Albanians want all this for themselves."

The sprawling state-owned Trepca mining complex, is the most valuable piece of real estate in the Balkans." The mine, with its warehouses, is ringed with smelting plants, 17 metal treatment sites, freight yards, railroad lines, a power plant and the country's largest battery plant.

"In the last three years we have mined 2,538,124 tons of lead and zinc crude ore," said Mr. Bjelic, 58, "and produced 286,502 tons of concentrated lead and zinc and 139,789 tons of pure lead, zinc, cadmium, silver and gold."

When the Nazis seized this corner of the Balkans in 1941, they handed over the hovels in Pristina, the provincial capital, to the Italian fascists. But they kept the British-built Trepca mines for the Reich, shipping out wagonloads of minerals for weapons and producing the batteries that powered the U-boats. Submarine batteries, along with ammunition, are still produced in the Trepca mines. The mining history reaches back to the Romans, who hacked out silver from the quarries."

At one time 75% of the 23,000 employees of the mine were ethnic Albanians. However, in a political move against the Serbian nationalist movement which was led by Milosevic, the employees shut down the mines and organized a 30-mile-long protest march to Pristina as they carried photos of Tito and Yugoslav flags adorned with the Communist Red Star. They demanded independence for Kosovo and, of course, they wanted to seize control of the "most valuable piece of real estate in the Balkans" - the Trepca mines.

When the marches didn't work, the Albanians did what they are really trying to do now - they seized and occupied the mines. That led to general strikes throughout Kosovo, making the Trepca mines the nerve center of the resistance movement.

The occupying Albanians eventually were seized, the mine reclaimed and the strikers were replaced with Poles, Czechs, Serbs and eventually even Muslim prisoners of war in the Bosnia conflict.

By 1998 the number of miners had dropped to 15,000, only 15 percent of whom were ethnic Albanians. Today, those ethnic Albanians who worked for the Serb management are generally considered "traitors" to the KLA cause and many of them were killed or driven from Kosovo when the KLA and KFOR took control in June 1999.

The 1998 New York Times Article noted: "A few days ago, Mr. Dimitrijevic (the mine's manager) received the disturbing news that a factory two miles away, where clothing for the miners is produced, had been seized by the rebels. Armed separatist guerrillas now guard the gates, and Serbs avoid the dirt road to the factory. No one has yet tried to take it back.

"We will never give up Trepca!" he shouted over the drilling. "Serbs will fight to defend the mine. It is ours. We know how to make war if this is what the Albanians want."

I have been getting e-mail for several weeks that has warned another outbreak of war may be imminent, especially when the weather improves. I was told in March or April of last year that the real cause of the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia was money, not humanitarianism. I didn't believe it at the time and didn't print those reports.

In retrospect, it appears those reports were on target. It's a bit hard to explain to anyone, apparently even the KLA allies of NATO, why, after doing nothing to stop the ethnic cleansing of Serbs, Gypsies (Roma), Montenegrins, Greeks, Egyptians, Turks and even Croatians from Kosovo by the KLA, all the sudden KFOR and the UN are rushing to stop the Albanians from driving all the Serbs out of Mitrovica.

It's not about who gets to visit their cousins on the other side of the river, folks. It's about who gets to control the Trepca mine which produces ores that not only bring in a lot of money, but enable their owners to make or buy weapons.

Original article