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Last Updated: Friday, 23 May, 2003, 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK
UN launches Kosovan sell-off
By Stefan Armbruster
BBC News Online business reporter

Trepca mining complex at Zvecan in northern Kosovo
The UN sale of state assets has worried local workers
The United Nations has published tenders for the first controversial privatisations of almost 500 companies in the Serbian province of Kosovo.

Serbia, of which the Kosovan protectorate is still legally a part, has opposed the privatisations claiming the UN interim authority has failed to properly consult on how the proceed of the sales will be distributed.

According to the Kosovo Trust Agency, a UN body, state laws have been introduced to "ensure a very investor-friendly environment including regulations on foreign investment, repatriation of capital, the purchase of real estate and... the 99-year leases of land formerly used by 'socially-owned enterprises'."

UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) says the sell-offs are vital for restarting the economy, where about 2 million inhabitants depend mainly on foreign aid.

Kosovo became a UN protectorate in June 1999 after an 11-week bombing campaign by Nato led to a Serbian withdrawal.

Rule by decree

The UN issued a decree a fortnight ago conferring the 99-year leases on Kosovo's "socially-owned" assets, a unique form of public ownership introduced in communist-era former Yugoslavia.

The head of Serbia's Coordinating Centre for Kosovo, Nebojsa Covic, has denounced the leases claiming Belgrade had not been consulted about their introduction.

The Serbian Government is particularly concerned about $1.4bn in international debts it has guaranteed but are owed by the Kosovan companies.

Despite the UN promising workers 20% of the privatisation proceeds, Kosovan trade unions have also opposed the sales.

UNMIK said in March that only about 50 of the business could be sold and the rest would be shut down.

Appealing sell-offs?

The Ombudsman for Kosovo, an independent arbitrator for human rights issues, told BBC News Online that he expected appeals against the privatisations to be filed.

"There is nobody who is looking at this independently apart from the special chamber of the supreme court set up by the KTA," said ombudsman Marek Antoni Nowicki.

The special chamber of the Kosovo Supreme Court must deal with any outstanding claims and ownership disputes before appeals can be made.

The six companies being sold include an electrical fuse manufacturer, limestone quarry, engineering contractor, two brick makers and a commercial fridge maker.

The advertisements say that large and small companies in the agriculture, textile, wine, retail, leisure, building and mining and metal industries will be sold.

While the province remains part of Serbia, its majority-Albanian population is seeking independence.




SEE ALSO:
UN plans Kosovo asset sell-off
10 Mar 03  |  Business
Kosovo marks UN's mixed record
12 Jun 02  |  Europe
UN attacked over Kosovo record
03 Jun 02  |  Europe
Yugoslavia's shattered economy
02 Jul 01  |  Business


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