Kosovo miners go on strike, demand government takes over administration of mining complex

PRISTINA, Kosovo – Over 400 employees went on strike Wednesday inside the Trepca mine in Kosovo demanding the government takes over the administration of the Yugoslav-era complex to stop it from liquidation.

The workers and management at the mine want the government in charge of the complex, which is rich in lead, zinc, silver and gold, Trepca spokesman Musa Mustafa said. Apart from saving the business, they also want to keep Serbia from having a say about its future.

Trepca’s riches are considered government property, but the mine is administered by the Kosovo Property Agency, an independent body set up to run similar enterprises created when Kosovo was part of socialist Yugoslavia.

Serbia, that rejects Kosovo’s 2008 secession, says no action can be taken without Belgrade’s consent and wants the issue to be discussed in ongoing talks with Pristina, mediated by the European Union.

A chamber of Kosovo’s Supreme Court has set a Feb. 2 deadline for the mining complex to go into liquidation, after the government failed to come up with a restructuring plan to make it profitable and deal with claimants.

Trepca is considered an important asset for Kosovo’s economic development. But it has been hurt by a series of bungled privatization processes, including during the reign of Serbia strongman Slobodan Milosevic when it was passed into various ownership schemes designed to bypass international sanctions.

Kosovo authorities say international investors, who stepped in to make the conglomerate profitable during the 1990s, claim liabilities of 1.4 billion euros ($1.6 billion).

Part of the mines lie in the northern part of Kosovo controlled by minority Serbs loyal to Belgrade.

Highlighting the sensitivity of the issue, hardline opposition leaders from Kosovo’s Albanian ethnic group have planned a rally on Saturday calling for a government takeover of the mines.

Kosovo leaders were blocked by political bickering for six months before forming a coalition government and many public institutions and agencies, including the KPA have worked without a sound legal framework.

On Tuesday Kosovo’s assembly amended a law on public enterprises which enabled it to delay resolving the Trepca issue for another 18 months. By then a detailed plan must be presented for the future of the mining complex.