Divided Kosovo city mines a dream of riches

Mon Dec 8, 2008 9:28pm EST
 
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By Adam Tanner

MITROVICA, Kosovo (Reuters) -- Nazmi Mikullovci puts the value of minerals beneath the ground here at 10 billion euros ($12.8 billion). But a river running through the area marks a rift so deep they cannot help the Balkans' newest state.

The Trepca mines are a loss-making mountain of debt, environmental damage and legal tangles straddling a disputed border between Serbia and Kosovo, the Albanian majority republic which declared independence from Serbia in February.

The muddied brown of the Ibar River marks that border.

On Tuesday, a mission of 1,900 European and American officials starts arriving to foster peace and stability under a United Nations plan.

Such stability could help revive the mines, a vast complex of lead, zinc and silver that in the past was a font of Yugoslav export revenue and employed 23,000 people.

With mining operations mostly halted during the 1998-99 Kosovo war, many of its factories and warehouses now lie abandoned, a jumble of rusted conveyer belts, pipes and cracked windows where weeds grow tall.

Across the river, half the complex lies in similar disrepair in the northern half of Mitrovica, run by Serbs. Albanian Kosovars rarely venture there to face the Serbs' bitter opposition to independence.

Mikullovci, a 65-year-old Albanian who directs the south side, has not crossed to the northern section in six years.   Continued...

 
<p>A miner works in an underground tunnel in Mitrovica November 13, 2008. Nazmi Mikullovci puts the value of minerals beneath the ground here at 10 billion euros ($12.8 billion). But a river running through the area marks a rift so deep they cannot help the Balkans' newest state.The Trepca mines are a loss-making mountain of debt, environmental damage and legal tangles straddling a disputed border between Serbia and Kosovo, the Albanian majority republic which declared independence from Serbia in February. Picture taken November 13. To match feature KOSOVO-MINES/ REUTERS/Hazir Reka</p>