The sprawling Trepca mines and metallurgy complex, a conglomerate
of 40 mines and factories, contain the most important mineral resources
in the former Yugoslavia. The lead, zinc and gold made it one of
Milosevics prized Kosovo treasures. But ownership of the mines
remains highly controversialsome claim Belgrade owns it, others
say it is publicly owned. For now, it is under UNMIK control.
In the early 1980s, Trepca employed more than 20,000
workers. Today, experts say the decrepit communist-style factories
will never be productive in a global market-driven economy. The
Serb managers claim that Kosovar Albanians ruined the mines, but
for twenty years, Serbia neglected Trepca and the Albanians viewed
it as a symbol of Serb oppression. In 1988, Albanian management
and workers were expelled from Trepca after being accused of stealing
large amounts of silver and gold. A huge mineworkers union
march and hunger strike followed, in the likes of Polands
Solidarity movement, though not nearly as successful.
Following the war, rumors spread that Serbs had buried
Albanian prisoners in mass graves in the mines but, to date, no
bodies have been found there.
This lead smelter in Zvecan, a Serb enclave north
of Mitrovica, was billowing thick pollution the afternoon we visited
and 600 workers, mostly Serbs, were at work in highly toxic conditions.
A month later, KFOR seized control of the plant and closed it down
due to dangerous levels of lead emission200 times greater
than World Health Organization safe standards. Soon after, sulfuric
acid leaked from an industrial plant in southern Mitrovica, polluting
the Ibar River.
UN officials have begun cleanup operations and raised
$16 million to assess the complex in hope it will attract foreign