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New Series no.11/12 August-November 1999
Letter on Trepca

Letter published by The Guardian (London), 25 November 1999

Your report from the Kosovan village of Stari Trg (`Turmoil mars Clinton trip to Kosovo', 23 November) mentions that nearby is a mine, but says nothing about it. The mine is part of the Trepca company, one of the biggest enterprises in ex├╝Yugoslavia. Its operations accounted for nearly a third of Kosova's annual income through production of lead, zinc, platinum, cadmium, bismuth, gold and silver.

These ore reserves explained Milosevic's ethnic cleansing rather more than 'ancient religious sites'. During 1989-90 the Trepca miners led the protest against Milosevic's ethnic discrimination and destruction of the Yugoslav constitution. Following underground hunger strikes, all 20,000 Albanian miners were sacked and have endured terrible poverty and brutal repression ever since.

When Serbian forces withdrew from most of Kosova (but not, so far, from around the mines), the miners hoped to restart production, but Kfor troops occupied the mines and refuse to allow entry to the miners. The miners' union has drawn up plans to resume production involving an initial outlay of $10m. The whole economy of the Mitrovice region depends upon this resumption.

In 1990 Milosevic took Trepca, the property of its employees, into state ownership. Unable to resume production without the miners, he made a $500m deal with a Greek company. Along the way Milosevic's family ended up with 20% of the shares and a French company with another 5%. The refusal to allow the miners to resume production is almost certainly to do with questions of ownership. Meanwhile thousands of miners are starving and unemployed. Last month the miners and their families gathered outside the mine gates, blocked by French tanks. Returning the mine to the miners will do more for peace in the region than any other single act.

Bob Myers, Workers Aid

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