Fourth day of protest in front of shut Kosovo smelter

PRISTINA, Aug 17, 2000 -- (AFP) Several hundred Serbs mounted a new protest Thursday in front of a Kosovo lead smelter shut down on the orders of the province's UN administration, a spokesman for the KFOR peacekeeping force told AFP.

The early morning protest lasted less than an hour and passed off peacefully, the officer said. Some of the workers present registered with the Zvecan plant's new UN administrators to be paid wages while reconstruction work is carried out, he added.

Peacekeepers seized the plant, in the north of Kosovo on the outskirts of the ethnically divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica, on Monday after pollution levels 200 times higher than the recommended safe maximums were recorded.

Serb workers reacted violently on Monday, clashing with peacekeepers who responded with rubber bullets and tear gas, but three subsequent days of street protests have passed off without incident.

Bernard Kouchner, head of the UN mission in Kosovo, on Wednesday visited the Zvecan plant, part of the huge Trepca industrial complex. He promised that the Serb workers would be paid while refurbishment work was carried out and would be allowed to return to their jobs.

But the protesters, spurred on by fierce criticism of the UN action from the Yugoslav government in Belgrade, remain angry.

"Trepca is going through it's worst crisis in 55 years. Force has entered Trepca, but we should be there, it belongs to us," engineer Tomislav Zivkovic told AFP by telephone.

"The workers can't accept what the UN is offering us. They are offering cruel capitalism. They want to take charge, and make us work," he added.

A French, U.S. and Swedish consortium has been contracted to spend 16 million dollars (EUR 18 million) to bring the Zvecan plant up to standard, a job which could take several months, the United Nations said.

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