Kosovo adopts law on ownership of Trepca mining complex, sparks protest from Serbs

Kosovo adopts law on ownership of Trepca mining complex, sparks protest from Serbs
By Ivana Jovanovic in Belgrade and Dimitar Koychev in Sofia October 10, 2016

Kosovo’s parliament passed a law on the ownership of the Trepca mining and metallurgical complex late on October 7, despite objections from Serbia that claims ownership too. The law envisages that the government will own 80% of the complex, and its miners will own the remaining 20%.

Pristina claims the move will allow the Trepca complex to be revived, with substantial benefits to the local economy. However, Kosovo’s move resulted in a storm of criticism from the Serbian side, both from Serbs in Kosovo including those working at Trepca, and from officials in Belgrade. Serbian officials have called for an appeal to the UN Security Council, and have also warned that the Kosovan decision will set back the normalisation process between the two countries. 

The bill was supported by 79 lawmakers in Kosovo’s 120-seat assembly in the October 7 vote. Trepca is currently under the administration of Kosovo’s privatisation agency, which has so far been unable to propose a plan for its future; it will now be transferred to direct government ownership. 

Presenting the draft law to the government on October 5, Kosovo’s Minister of Economic Development Blerand Stavileci said the aim was to ensure sustainable economic development by opening the way for investment.

On October 7, Kosovo's Prime Minister Isa Mustafa told the parliament, "The mineral resources are the property of the Republic of Kosovo and with this law Trepca’s assets are and will remain in Kosovo."

The complex once employed over 20,000 workers and still consists of 41 different units, grouped mainly in three big sectors – mines, the industrial park in Mitrovica, and the smelter complex. However, most of these have been degraded due to the lack of maintenance and investment.

The bulk of resources are lead and zinc mines, smelters and processing facilities. Trepca’s estimated debts total €1.4bn at the moment. The law adopted on October 7 makes Kosovo’s government the guarantor of the debt. 

Part of Trepca is on the territory of Serbia, which claims 75% ownership of the complex. On October 7, a large group of Serb protesters gathered in Rudare near Zvecan, one of four Serbian municipalities in northern Kosovo-Metohija to call for the draft bill on Trepca to be withdrawn. The protesters blocked a road passing through Rudare for two hours.

“The Serbian government is absolutely against that bill, aimed at legalising the usurpation of Serbian property,” said Petar Petkovic, assistant director of the Serbian government Office for Kosovo-Metohija. "This is not just about Trepca, but about all Serbian property [in Kosovo], which is worth over €200bn, and which Pristina wants to usurp," he said, Tanjug reported on October 7.

On October 8, the director of the office for Kosovo-Metohija Marko Djuric told journalists that the decision was “null and void” from the point of view of the Serbian government. He also accused the Kosovan government of trying to “complete the ethnic cleansing of Serbs in Kosovo-Metohija.”

Djuric claimed that the owners of Trepca are the Serbian Development Fund, Genex, Jugobanka, Progres, Dunavbanka, Electrical Power Industry of Serbia, 14. Oktobar Krusevac, Termoelektro Beograd, Ratko Mitrovic and Pozega Luka Bar Beograd.

“I will propose to the Serbian government to request on Monday, October 10, an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council about seizing the property of the Republic of Serbia and the violation of UN Resolution 1244 on which the peace and stability in the region rests. If they do not want to talk about that in Brussels, they will have to talk in the UN,” Djuric said.

Currently, out of five permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia do not recognise Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, as an independent state.

“My suggestion to the Serbian government will be that the decision of Pristina is annulled and that the ministries and other institutions be ordered to secure the property, safety and survival of people who depend on Trepca,” Djuric stated. Currently, about 3,000 Serbs work in Trepca.

Meanwhile, Serbian members of Kosovo’s government announced they are freezing their work in the government, inter-ministerial commissions and other government bodies.

“Not wanting to make situation even worse than it is, at this moment we’ll just take formally the decision that others in Pristina made without us. We are freezing our participation in all bodies where our presence would be only formally and not substantially, without respecting our positions and without giving us a chance to influence a process of making decisions,” Serb ministers in Kosovo’s government announced in a statement, Tanjug reported on October 9.

The statement was signed by Deputy Kosovo Prime Minister Branimir Stojanovic, Minister of Local Government Administration Ljubomir Maric and Minister for Communities and Return Dalibor Jevtic. They said that they could not accept “being just a tool in the hands of the Albanian rulers of Kosovo which want to feign the existence of democracy with their presence.”

The ministries added they will, together with other Serbian officials in Kosovo’s government, be dedicated only to activities which contribute to improving the position of the Serbian people in Kosovo.