Sale of Omarska
Author: Ed Vulliamy
Uploaded: Friday, 03 December, 2004
Front page report and longer feature article from The Guardian (London) concerning the sale of the Omarska iron mine to UK-based steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, already owner of the Zenica steelworks, and the demands by survivors of the Omarska concentration camp and their relatives for a suitable memorial on the site
UK magnate buys death camp site
The site of the infamous concentration camp at Omarska - operated by Bosnian Serbs for Muslim and Croat prisoners - has been bought by Britain's richest resident, steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal.
Camp Omarska, where hundreds died, was established on the site of an iron ore mine, one of three in a complex in which Mr Mittal has a controlling share in a joint venture with the local Bosnian Serb authorities.
Now, survivors of the camp and relatives of the dead are pleading with Mr Mittal not to reconvert the mine without preserving some buildings and land in commemoration of what happened there.
In letters sent to Mr Mittal this week, survivors of the camp plead that installations be preserved out of respect for the dead, and to help bring about some reckoning and reconciliation between the Bosnian Serbs and their victim communities. ‘You own a place with a legacy,’ says one letter, and ‘we hope you will look compassionately upon our request so that the past will not be forgotten’.
Mr Mittal also faces the possibility that bodies - mass graves, even - may be found on or near the site. Work has just concluded on one mass grave, exhuming 420 bodies, only two miles away. In 2001, 353 bodies, mostly of men killed in Omarska, were found within the territory of another mine in the complex, Ljubija.
‘There is no doubt whatsoever that there are bodies as yet unfound within the mine of Omarska and its vicinity,’ said Amor Masovic, president of the Bosnian government's Commission for Tracing Missing Persons.
A spokesperson for Mr Mittal told the Guardian: ‘We are willing to listen carefully to any requests’ from the survivors, adding that the company is a ‘significant investor’ in the region. But a source familiar with the case said: ‘We are in a very difficult situation. The area is largely populated by Serbs; these are the people we are dealing with and we don't want to do anything to antagonise them’.
Mr Mittal acquired a 51% controlling stake in the Ljubija/Omarska mine complex in April this year, with a view to restarting ore production. The remaining 49% is maintained by the RZR mining company, a public sector enterprise owned by the Republika Srpska statelet.
In October, Mr Mittal became the biggest steel producer in the world with a $4.5bn (about £2.35bn) takeover of the American International Steel Group.
This report appeared in The Guardian (London), 2 December 2004
New battle breaks out over Serb death camp
A spectral silence hangs over these buildings: a cavernous rust-coloured hangar containing heavy industrial plant and piles of tyres; a deserted complex once used as a canteen, and an empty, smaller building known as the White House.
Underground, there lies a seam of iron ore, which has remained untouched for 12 years since a hurricane of violence blew through this corner of Bosnia. But soon, this place will be teeming again, with the rattle of machinery and the business of its original use as a mine. And the man who has acquired it, who aims to restart the Omarska iron ore mine, is none other than Britain's richest resident, Lakshmi Mittal, who in October became the biggest steel producer in the world.
But there are ghosts here too: this was the site of the infamous concentration camp of Omarska, operated by the Bosnian Serbs for the internment, torture and mass murder of Muslim and Croat prisoners during the summer of 1992. From that once-crammed hangar, men were called for barbaric execution. In that White House, they were slaughtered by the hundred. Above that canteen, women were serially raped. On an L-shaped strip of concrete land in between, an orgy of killing and torture was unleashed.
Now, survivors of the camp, and relatives of the hundreds killed there, are pleading with Mr Mittal not to reconvert the mine without preserving some installations in commemoration of what happened. But their pleas present Mr Mittal with a potential challenge: his partners in a joint venture to restart iron ore extraction at Omarska and other mines are the Bosnian Serb authorities, whom Mr Mittal - by admission of his own staff - does not want to antagonise. Those same Bosnian Serb authorities have shown little sign of admission, let alone commemoration, of what happened in the camp managed by their countrymen.
A second problem concerns the possibility that bodies remain buried - perhaps even in mass graves - within the three mines in the complex acquired by Mr Mittal, of which Omarska is one.
Work has just concluded at one mass grave only two miles from the Omarska site, from which the remains of 420 men murdered in the camp were retrieved. In October 2001, another mass grave containing 353 bodies was found within another mine in the complex bought by Mr Mittal, called Ljubija. ‘There is no doubt whatsoever that there are bodies as yet unfound within the mine of Omarska and its vicinity,’ said Amor Masovic, president of the Bosnian government's Commission for Tracing Missing Persons, which exhumes the graves. ‘We are not talking about dozens of bodies here, we are talking about hundreds.’
In three separate petitions and letters to Mr Mittal, survivors this week pleaded for the premises in which prisoners were killed to be preserved and dedicated for commemoration of the dead, and also for the historical record and in pursuit of reconciliation in Bosnia. One comes from groups representing camp survivors and relatives of the dead who have returned to the Kozarac neigh bourhood, near Omarska. Sabahudin Garibovic, a spokesman for one of those groups, the Association of Camp Inmates, said: ‘It is important to mark the Omarska camp to honour the memory of the Bosniaks and Croats imprisoned and killed there, not only for our future but for the future of Bosnia, for the reconciliation process.’ Another comes from a Bosnian diaspora network based in the UK and a third from a Dutch-based foundation of survivors, addressed to Mr Mittal at his company headquarters in Rotterdam. ‘You own a place with a legacy,’ it submits. ‘Although you are not responsible for what happened there, we hope you will look compassionately upon our request so that the past will not be forgotten.’
Mr Mittal made his fortune by buying tired steelworks in the developing world and former communist countries, and turning them round. In late October, he overtook the billionaire owner of Chelsea FC, Roman Abramovich, to become Britain's richest resident. He did this by concluding a $4.5bn (about £2.35bn) takeover of the US International Steel Group, making his group the first truly global steel empire. Meanwhile, the tycoon oversaw a refinancing of his companies to bring about a vast new entity, Mittal Steel, of which Mr Mittal personally owns 88%. ‘These transactions dramatically change the landscape of the steel industry,’ he said at the time. ‘He's the modern Carnegie,’ said Robert Jones, editor at the Me