Monday, January 19, 2015

Government "will not allow Trepca to be taken"

BELGRADE -- The government "will not accept" a unilateral decision of Pristina to take over the ownership of the Mining, Metallurgical and Chemical Combine Trepca.
The reason is the fact the Republic of Serbia Development Fund owns a majority stake in the mines, Director of the Serbian Government's Office for Kosovo and Metohija Marko Djuric said on Sunday.
The government warned over the weekend that such a move "will jeopardize the negotiating process between Belgrade and Pristina."

On January 15, the government of Kosovo adopted amendments to the law on public enterprises to make taking over Trepca easier.

The presidency of the assembly of Kosovo decided to debate the amendments under urgent procedure at a meeting scheduled for January 19 to make sure that the Kosovo government could take over 100 percent of all ownership and management rights in Trepca on February 2.

The Serbian government today urged the international community to use its influence and react so that the issue could be resolved within the framework of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina and not by unilateral moves and legal violence.

The government pointed out that about 4,000 Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija and about 20,000 members of their families depended on Trepca.

Speaking at a news conference, Djuric said that there was only one word for the seizure of Trepca - "theft."

"Keep your hands off our property!" Djuric told Kosovo Prime Minister Isa Mustafa and Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Hasim Taci, warning them that by seizing Trepca they would render the entire negotiating process in Brussels, which should be resumed on February 9, meaningless.

Djuric called the unilateral decision by the authorities in Pristina a rough violation of property rights.

"The attempt to change the ownership structure in Trepca is unreasonable and will lead to a serious violation of trust after two and a half years of negotiations aimed at achieving stability in Kosovo and Metohija," he said.

Serbian Minister of Energy and Mining Aleksandar Antic said that the intention of the authorities in Pristina to take over Trepca was unacceptable and warned that "changes in Trepca ownership could destabilize the situation in Kosovo."

Economy Minister Zeljko Sertic said that Trepca had about USD 400 million of debt and was one of the 502 Serbian companies that needed to be privatized.

The Serbian government has already received four letters of interest - from Hungary, Canada, Switzerland, and the United States - which clearly shows that in these countries, they hold the right of property as sacred, Sertic said.

He pointed out that the Serbian government had decided to suspend the privatization of 19 companies from Kosovo for the duration of Brussels-based negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina.

However, if the authorities in Pristina do not revoke their unilateral decision on Trepca takeover, Serbia's Privatization Agency will start a process to privatize the mines, as Serbia is obliged to protect its property, said Sertic.

Labor Minister Aleksandar Vulin said that Serbia's Development Fund owns a 56 percent in Trepca and the rest is owned by Serbian enterprises and employees.

The union of Trepca employees has decided that all employees are to go on strike tomorrow and keep on that way until negotiations on the combine begin, he said.

Vulin pointed out that Pristina's decision to unilaterally take over a 100 percent stake in Trepca had nothing to do with the law or the economy, but was rather a political decision threatening the talks on property (Brussels 2) and on property owned by the Serbian Orthodox Church (Brussels 3) and was a move threatening to destabilize the situation in the Serbian province.

Representatives of the Srpska (Serb) List in the Kosovo government also expressed disagreement with the unilateral move announced by Pristina.

If we get to the takeover of Trepca, the mayors of the four Serb-majority municipalities in northern Kosovo will stop all communication with the Pristina authorities, said Ljubomir Maric, Kosovo government minister of administration and local self-government.

He pointed out that 40 percent of the population in the north depended directly on Trepca and stressed that “the social peace in Kosovo-Metohija depends on the way in which the problem of Trepca will be solved.”

Kosovo Minister of Returns and Communities Aleksandar Jablanovic said that Trepca was “the question of all questions,” stressing that it was unacceptable for issues of such importance to be dealt with by unilateral moves.

“We need to talk about all issues, even about those that we do not like,” said Jablanovic.

Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Branimir Stojanovic said that the government in Pristina had adopted a unilateral decision on the takeover of Trepca without consulting with representatives of the Srpska list.

By doing so, they have already damaged the stability of Kosovo and Metohija, he said, pointing out that now, the only possible solution was not to have the controversial amendments adopted in the Assembly.

Stojanovic urged the Pristina authorities to help remedy the situation by resolving the issue in talks with Belgrade.

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