EU backs KFOR closure of polluting lead plant in Kosovo

PARIS, Aug 20, 2000 -- (AFP) The European Union approved on Saturday the closure of a highly pollutant lead plant in the Serbian area of Kosovo by KFOR peacekeeping troops.

In a statement released by France, the current president of the European Union, the EU said: "This measure was imposed by the extremely high level of pollution generated by the factory, which represented a danger for public health."

International peacekeepers shut down the Zvecan plant in northern Kosovo on Monday and handed it over to the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) after tests showed that there was 200 times the recommended safe level of lead particles in the surrounding air.

The move provoked outrage from Belgrade, who accused KFOR of "breaking-in" to the lead smelter near the divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica.

The EU affirmed that UNMIK and KFOR had acted entirely within their UN mandate in shutting the plant and it regretted that the factory's managers had done nothing to reduce the highly dangerous lead emissions.

It also said it would fully support reconstruction efforts by UNMIK and the French, U.S. and Swedish consortium, ITT Kosovo, to bring the factory up to acceptable environmental standards.

About 600 Serbs worked at the Zvecan smelter, which is part of the huge Trepca mining conglomerate comprising 41 factories and mines in Kosovo and neighboring Serbia and Montenegro.

The Trepca firm's mines in Kosovo are thought to account for three-quarters of Yugoslavia's potential mineral wealth. Prior to 1990, managers and workers were mainly ethnic Albanian, but they were pushed aside by Serbs loyal to Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Belgrade regime after he stripped the province of its autonomy.

Since the end of Kosovo's 1998-1999 civil war, the future ownership and workforce of the Trepca complex has become a highly controversial issue.

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