Probably sick, and now unemployed, Serb lead plant workers see bleak future

ZVECAN, Aug 15, 2000 -- (AFP) Dense clouds of lead-ridden smoke stopped rising from Zvecan's smelter Monday after peacekeeping troops, under orders from the United Nations to prevent a health crisis, shut the gates.

The furnaces were turned off in the morning after French and Danish soldiers of the KFOR peacekeeping force moved into the blighted works, which sits sweltering in a narrow, polluted valley in Kosovo's hilly north.

By mid-afternoon the soldiers were taking a nap among the blackened buildings. Calm had returned after a morning of high tension, when the plant's Serbian workers, finding their way blocked by gendarmes and armored cars, mounted a violent protest.

Stone throwing Serbs injured four British troops, brought in as reinforcements, and four of them were injured in turn when the Fusiliers fired rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.

By 3:00 PM (1500 GMT) the last of the demonstrators, a small group of site managers, had left the field.

As the dust settled the second part of the operation began -- a drive to measure the effects on the workers and the local population of the lead, which since early June has been pouring into the air around Zvecan.

In the works canteen a health center has been set up by Kosovo's United Nations administration. Half a dozen workers who came in looking for a 50 mark (25 dollar) advance on their wages volunteered to give a blood sample. Nine others refused, however, and the majority of the 600 workers have no faith in the United Nations' promise to pay their wages until the plant is cleaned up, modernized and ready to start production.

"I don't trust the UN. They say they're going to pay us, but in two or three months we wont be getting anything," predicted Dragan Zivkovic, an engineer who has been working in the Trepca industrial complex, of which Zvecan forms a part, for 20 years.

"The UN want to pay us while they rebuild the factory. They want to buy us, but I'll never go for it. Our freedom is more important," said one of Dragan's colleagues, standing in front of the plant's shattered glass and rusted pipework.

The Serbs greatest fear, however, is that the UN administration will use the closure of the plant as an opportunity to bring ethnic Albanian workers back to an area which has been almost exclusively Serb since Kosovo's 1998-1999 civil war.

"If the Serbs rose up this morning, it's because they're frightened of seeing the Albanians coming back to colonize Zvecan," Dragan said.

Original article