Trepca Mines Finally Surface
In Media As UN War Prize
You Heard It Here First!

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Yugoslavia (AFP) - Among the rubble and headaches inherited by the UN mission in Kosovo is an industrial area that is one of the jewels in the crown of the Belgrade regime: a complex that boasts Europe's biggest lead and zinc mines.
Officially, Trepca, the company running the area, is still owned by Belgrade and according to the UN workers charged with determining its future running, it accounts for three quarters of Yugoslavia's mineral wealth.
In this northern Kosovo city on the edges of Trepca's operation, the mines and factories have taken on larger-than-life dimension. Some say it makes Kosovo one of the richest regions in the Balkans, others say it financed the Serbian war effort while still others claim the family of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is the "real" owner.
But the UN administration which now runs the Serbian province has found an area largely run down since Belgrade revoked Kosovo's autonomy in 1989, and the UN official in charge of Kosovo's northern region, Martin Garrod, said he was currently trying to identify who owns Trepca.
"I hope that Trepca will be fully working in the near future for the benefit of Kosovo and Mitrovica," he said, adding: "I want to do things legally."
Garrod said the future of Trepca "is a very, very sensitive subject.... it's one of my priorities" because of its political and economic importance and its capacity to create jobs in post-war Kosovo. He said the company had employed 30,000 people in the past.
Three groups have laid claim to the mines: the current Serb management, the former ethnic Albanian management which was fired in the early 1990s, and a group of ethnic Albanian "private investors".
Bernard Kouchner, the top UN administrator for Kosovo, has said that his organisation will act as a caretaker for Yugoslav state assets in the province. He also said that while he did not have the power right now to appoint managers to the mine complex, the texts authorising this would be finished in the next few days.
As well as the lead, zinc, silver and gold mines and the chemical, battery acid, glass, china and jewellery factories in the north of Kosovo, Trepca also has several factories around Pristina, the provincial capital.
In a recently published book, the former ethnic Albanian managing director of Trepca, Aziz Abrashi, said the total annual production of the company in the 1980s was around 200 million dollars. In 1989, exports accounted for 120 million dollars.
While 21,571 people were employed by Trepca in 1989, including 18,300 in Kosovo, the number had fallen to 6,850 in 1995 and salaries had been sharply cut.
One of the officials charged with handling the UN reconstruction effort in Kosovska Mitrovica, French Captain Serge Regnier, said "no one knows the real value today of Trepca."
In a suburb of Kosovska Mitrovica, a Trepca factory seems totally abandoned. Equipment sits rusting and its windows are all broken.
At the entry gate, a security guard prevents the curious from entering. "Director Novak Bjelic (of the Serbian management) is in Belgrade. Nobody can give you any information. Leave now."