Envoy likens Kosovo mine takeover to 'bank holdup'

PRISTINA, Aug 23, 2000 -- (Reuters) Yugoslavia's UN envoy said on Tuesday the takeover by NATO-led troops of the Trepca smelter in northern Kosovo was reminiscent of a Hollywood-style western bank holdup.

Ambassador Vladislav Jovanovic told a news conference he had called for a Security Council meeting on the Aug. 14 closure by KFOR (Kosovo Force) troops of a lead smelter that they said had been pumping 200 times the safe level of lead into the atmosphere.

The smelter forms part of the vast Trepca mining and metals group, a collection of pits and decrepit factories that straddle the ethnic divide between ethnic Albanians and Serbs in Mitrovica. Control of Trepca's mineral wealth has long been disputed between the two communities.

"That massive military action is unprecedented because it never happened in the history of the peacekeeping operations that peacekeeping units are used against a peaceful population without any provocation," Jovanovic said.

"The early morning massive military action reminds very much of the Hollywood western-style of armed attacks against banks... This is a typical case of armed robbery because that corporation belongs to the Yugoslav state and some foreign owners," he added.

Jovanovic said 6,000 Serbs were now jobless as a result of the takeover, and the "strategic goal" of Kosovo's UN administrator Bernard Kouchner and those behind him was to force Serbs to leave Kosovo for good.

KFOR has said that Serb workers would continue to be paid even while the smelter was shut for repairs.

The Yugoslav province of Kosovo has been under UN administration, backed by KFOR troops, since June last year, when an 11-week NATO bombing campaign forced Belgrade to stop oppressing the Albanian majority and permit the return of hundreds of thousands who had fled, mostly to neighboring countries.

Jovanovic said that while Kouchner cited high air pollution as the reason for the action, the Yugoslav government had denied this, saying the degree of pollution complied with standards it set some seven years ago.

But even if the level was high, "it was not sufficient to justify such a crude use of military force," he added.

There was no such large-scale KFOR troop deployment to prevent what he said was the killing by "Albanian extremists and terrorists" of 1,000 Serbs and non-Albanians and the abduction or wounding of a similar number.

The action at Trepca was "aimed at the intimidation and expulsion of the remaining Serbian population in northern Kosovo" and extension of control by "Albanian extremists" over that part of the province.

"We don't exaggerate when we say that Dr Kouchner and the international presence in Kosovo is the right hand of the Albanian separatists and terrorists," he added.

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