MON, 06 JUL 1998 23:04:31 GMT
AIM Pristina, 25 June, 1998
When a few days ago Serbian media reported that the factory of protective equipment in Bare near Kosovska Mitrovica was fully controlled by armed Kosovo Albanians, analysts started considering the possibility that this was part of a new strategy of taking control of "strategic" facilities. Since a month ago, after the beginning of armed conflicts in villages of Glogovac municipality, Albanian sources reported that members of Serbian police took "positions" in the ferronickel melting plant in Glogovac from where they shelled the surrounding villages inhabitted mostly by Albanian population.
The latest information about the "conquest" of the Belacevac coal-mine just about 15 kilometres away from Pristina by members of the Liberation Army of Kosovo (OVK) is an indication that this form of "combat" will for some time also be the tactics of the other warring party. However, what has actually been going on at the Belacevac and Dobro Selo coal-mines in the past two days, it is hard to tell with certainty.
Various Albanian sources and press carry that Belacevac coal-pit is now controlled by armed Kosovo Albanians gathered around the OVK. On the other hand, media in Serbian language, primarily the regime-controlled ones, confirm this informtion or more precisely, do not mention Belacevac at all.
However, eye-witnesses, that is the inhabitants of the village of Belacevac who have fled out of fear, as they explained, of confrontations between the members of the OVK and the Serbian police, testify that members of the OVK not only have full control of the whole village, but also of all entrance and exit points, and the coal-mine. They also say that armed forces are standing facing each other at the distance of only several hundred metres...
The newly created situation, as political and analytical circles here believe, can change the intensity of armed conflicts at any moment. The latest statement for the public, as it was signed - of the main staff of the OVK - says among other that "time has come for territorial expansion of military action".
After the first rumours about the "conquest" of the Belacevac coal-pit, a delegation of the Union of Independent Trade Union of Kosovo (UNSK) set out to see for itself whether it was true. It was stopped by an armed group of members of the OVK in uniforms with a "military" order that they could not continue. After the explanation that they were an official delegation of the UNSK, they were told that "there is no such thing as the trade union any more".
Workers of the coal-mine say that the situation has changed completely since 15 June, when they started to work in two 12-hour shifts. In the past few days, workers of Serb ethnic origin failed to appear at work. A day before the "fall" of the coal-pit, the management which was mostly of Serb ethnic origin, along with industrial police left the plant and did not come back. The next day, a part of the mine was visited by industrial police, but it failed to come near to the points held by the OVK, and some of the Albanian workers who were still working were ordered to stop. The situation gradually became strained because just a day before, the ministry of the interior of Serbia informed that "armed Kosovo Albanians" had kidnapped nine workers of the Electric Company of Serbia and of the coal-mine of Serb origin, and that nothing was known about six of them. When they heard the news, their colleagues spontaneously gathered and demanded protection from the state administration.
The next day did not bring about any change in the field. Serbian police is stationed near the strip mine, members of the OVK are guarding the plant, while the inhabitants of Belacevac and the surrounding villages have left their homes and are seeking refuge mostly in Pristina. About the question of possible further developments, there is not a single comment either of the UNSK or from among political parties.
Belacevac is one of the biggest villages in Kosovo. The location of the village is of significant strategic interest because it is almost at the outskirts of Pristina and very close to the biggest military base in Kosovo - Slatina.
In 1990, among all the enterprises which Electric Company of Kosovo consisted of, Belacevac strip mine was under greatest pressure of Serbian authorities. At that time, in the first big change, the entire management cadre of Albanian ethnic origin were sacked, and then all the others as well. In the meantime, new workers were employed, the Albanians inclusive, so that nowadays, out of 1750 workers, 700 are Albanian. At the moment, production is interrupted threatening electric power generation in Kosovo thermo-electric power stations. Whether by accident or not, on the day the OVK took over control of Belacevac, half of Pristina remained in the dark.
On the occasion of the newly created situation, the Democratic Alliance of Kosovo also issued a statement, concluding that "possible damage or complete interruption of production of the Electric Company of Kosovo would threaten life of the population of Kosovo, regardless of how far from the line of armed conflicts they were. This is a fact, because both households and industries are supplied from a single source - the thermo-electric power plant in Obilic". Directors of Belacevac and Dobro Selo strip mines, Ivica Jakovljevic and Srdjan Kovacevic, addressed a letter to director general of the Electric Company of Serbia informing him about the newly established situation and the estimate that as the result power generation would be interrupted in about 24-hour time. "There is no coal, and it may happen that the terrorists will take over control of Obilic as well", it is stated in this letter. The two directors assess that "if no decisive action is taken, thermo-electric power plants and other facilities of the Electric Company of Serbia may be occupied, which will have incalculable consequences for the electric power industry of Serbia, because the electric system will break down". It seems that the ones and the others this time advocate the same interests, because power supply is needed equally by everybody. If rumour is true that rotary excavators worth several million German marks have been taken away from the strip mines, it is hard to predict further course of development or rather further straining of the situation in Kosovo which may turn into a general conflict.
Figures show that electric power generation in Kosovo exceeds consumption. Annual capacity is 5.5 million kilowatthours, 40 per cent of which is consumed in Kosovo. Regardless of the fact that Serbia produces a surplus of electric power, it also uses power generated in Kosovo which was exported to Macedonia during the economic blockade. It is possible to dig 8.2 tmilion tons of coal at the Belacevac pit, and 8.5 million tons at Dobro Selo. This exceeds the needs of all six thermo-electric power plants, especially when they do not work at full power. Development of power generation in Kosovo has always relied on coal-mines, as specified in the adopted plan of Serbia for electric power industry. The largest coal-bed in Serbia is the one in Kosovo, which covers the area of 154 square kilometres in villages Belacevac, Dobro Selo, Sibovac, Bresje, Lipjan and Muhaxher Babush. Data on coal deposits vary. Minir Dushi, member of the Academy, says that the largest deposits of coal in Kosovo are in this basin, cca 6.4 billion tons. But, there are also data of the Belgrade Institute for Mining which certify that the deposits amount to 13 billion tons. The Dugaxhin (Metohija) basin extends on the area of 120 square kilometres and it is estimated that its deposits amount to two billion tons of coal. The Drenica basin which lies near Srbica and Glogovac covers the area of four square kilometres, but data on deposits in it are not confirmed. It is assumed that there are deposits around Prizren and Pec, but they have not been scientifically investigated and confirmed, so there have been no attempts to activate them.
These data confirm clearly why those who control Belacevac and Dobro Selo can influence life in Kosovo in general, political life inclusive. Existence of a military plan in this sense cannot be eliminated either...