NEWS AND ANALYSIS - COUNTDOWN TO INDEPENDENCE
South Korea's Samsung Corp has expressed interest in bidding for the ferro-nickel plant in United Nations-run Kosovo, a Kosovo government spokeswoman said on Tuesday.Mimoza Kusari said representatives of Samsung Corp, the trading arm of the Samsung Group, had met last week to discuss the sale with Kosovo's prime minister and officials of the privatisation body, the Kosovo Trust Agency (KTA).A source close to the privatisation process said "four serious international companies" were interested in the "FerroNikeli" plant in central Kosovo, lured by potential annual revenue of 100 million euros.A tender for the plant in Glogovac, one of the biggest in Europe, was launched on July 14 with the requirement to invest 20 million euros over three years and to hire 1,000 workers by the end of year one.The plant has ore reserves of 13.8 million tonnes in three open pit mines, equivalent to more than 10 years mine-life. At its operational height in 1989, it produced and exported 6,800 tonnes of nickel.The KTA has also identified potential deposits in neighbouring Albania of some 200 million tonnes of lateritic nickel ore.Under-utilised and degraded during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s, the plant ceased working in 1998 and was further damaged during the 1999 NATO bombing campaign to force Serb troops out of Kosovo and end repression of its Albanian majority.Kosovo has since been under the control of the United Nations, which in May last year began privatising some 500 socially-owned companies -- a corporate model unique to old socialist Yugoslavia -- in a bid to revive the shattered economy.Kosovo is rich in nickel and lignite. Reiner Hengstmann, the province's U.N.-appointed mining chief, told Reuters in August there was a "total value in the ground" of 8.2 billion euros.Kirk Adams, the official in charge of the Ferronikeli sale, said Kosovo could become a major nickel producer. "It could drive the economy in this area," he said.The final bid day for FerroNickeli is December 8.The biggest question in Kosovo is its "final status", whether it will achieve self-determination in some sort of association with Serbia, or become an independent state as the Albanians demand. That issue is due for discussion in mid-2005.
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