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THU, 17 JAN 2002 23:16:16 GMT

Situation Satisfactory, But Power Cuts Still On

AIM Pristina, January 9, 2002

Two people who died because of low temperatures that have swept over Kosovo too, are a tragic consequence of not only poverty or "bad luck", but permanent shorter or longer power cuts that are applied here for the last three years. The citizens of Kosovo have started this 2002 with power cuts and, according to announcements of the management of the Electrical Corporation of Kosovo (KEK), these will be on till spring. The Kosovars have heard such "promises" last and penultimate year too. The only difference now is that their patience seems to be at an end, probably because the workers of the Kosovo power plants have finally decided to break the silence.

From time to time, some of them muster courage and point their finger at the management, but it is soon "hushed up" in the public. The media are somewhat more prone to criticism, but with very little effect. It is still possible to read that "repairs" (into which foreign donors have invested large sums) were simply "unsuccessful". Or, on the other hand, that boilers are leaking, that the coal transmission lines are broken, etc. These justifications are becoming increasingly hard to believe, but, on the other hand, the KEK management has made no specific moves to finally stabilise electric power generation and supply of citizens. What is the current situation with power supply like in Kosovo and who is responsible for that?

Spokesman for the Electrical Corporation of Kosovo, Mr. Fadil Lepaja, claimed that the supply of citizens with electricity is, generally speaking, satisfactory. However, judging by the situation in cities and rural areas, it is far from satisfactory. In some parts of Kosovo people do not have enough electricity even for their basic needs. For example, power cuts in northern Mitrovica are frequent and random. Some apartment buildings have no electricity for four to eight consecutive hours, whereas others are without electricity for three to four days. Allegedly, apart from "regular" cuts, power is also cut when the consumption in northern parts of Mitrovica is excessive. It is not surprising that it is excessive as power supply is more frequently off than on, so that as soon as the power is back the citizens switch on their electric heaters because firewood is too expensive. In addition, if, for example, we take a worker of the "Trepca" mines who gets monthly pay of DM 60 (which is the price of one meter of firewood) it turns out that electrical heating is cheaper. It is true that the Kosovo Serbs do not pay electricity bills and that the Albanians are not prompt in their payments either.

General Manager of the Electrical Corporation for the region of Mitrovica, Ismet Berani, said that 26 percent of citizens in southern part of the town (where Kosovo Albanians live) pay their electricity bills regularly, whereas in northern part no one does (Kosovo Serbs). Spokesman for the KEK, Mr. Lepaja said that the Corporation had discussions with the UNMIK on the payment of electricity bills so that door-to-door collection of bills could be soon expected. Serbs in the North of Kosovo would not object to this if that would improve power supply. However, the question is whether it will.

Lepaja was unable to explain why is power in shorter supply in Mitrovica than in other parts, but he expressed "optimism". He promised that there would be enough electricity for New Year's holidays (except if the worn-out power-supply transformers fail), but power cuts were, nevertheless, registered all over Kosovo.

On the other hand, General Manager of the Power Supply Company, Zoran Dragovic, was not optimistic and announced "New Year's Eve by candlelight". On the other hand, British organisations donated two power-transformers for northern part of Mitrovica and French soldiers from KFOR another one to an apartment house, which had been without electricity for ten days. The Yugoslav Coordinating Centre for Kosovo has approved 2.760 million dinars as assistance for the Kosovo Power Supply Company, which is enough to buy two power-stations that burned down recently, as well as supply cable for four apartment buildings in the town. Nevertheless, the obsolete power-stations and worn-out cables are not the only reason people do not have electricity.

Izmet Berani, Director of the KEK for the region of Mitrovica claimed that the Republic of Serbia is not supplying Kosovo with electrical power, whereas according to Fadilj Lepaja quite the opposite is the case. "KEK is cooperating with Serbia in the power sector. They ask us for electric power at night when their supply is short, and we do the same. Normally, at the end we all pay each other for these services. This is a commercial relation that should be maintained in the future", said Lepaja. On the other hand, those in charge in the KEK, Power Supply Company in northern Kosovo and UNMIK blame each other for the poor power supply. UNMIK spokesman Djordji Kakuk told us that power supply problems were not UNMIK's responsibility, but the KEK's. "Due to poor weather conditions and hard situation, UNMIK and KFOR are trying together to improve the power supply situation. The problem is not the shortage of power, but rather that, in addition to system failures, we have problems with power distribution," said Kakuk. He mentioned Partizansko brdo as the region in which the situation is most dramatic, because power cuts last there for even ten hours.

And while the KEK and UNMIK officials are accusing each other for mishandling of funds approved for expensive spare parts and repairs and undone work, citizens in northern part of Mitrovica are losing patience. Just before New Year's holidays workers of the Power Supply Company were verbally attacked, and even physically assaulted. "This is worse than war. No one knows to tell us what is really happening. I have a month old baby and no electricity for ten days. I feel like throwing a bomb on the Power Supply Company and then they can see what to do next. Believe me, this is impossible to endure", said an indignant denizen of Mitrovica.

Nevertheless, a question arises from this: would it take a serious incident for someone to finally assume the responsibility and explain why is power situation in Kosovo so bad. Or, perhaps, those responsible should resign and leave thing to those who are able to move Kosovo from this critical point.

Valentina Cukic

(AIM)