PRISTINA (AP)--A nickel plant in Kosovo went up for sale Wednesday as the U.N. mission in Kosovo agreed to give a mining license to the most successful bidder, the U.N. said.
Companies have been asked to table bids for Feronikeli plant in central Kosovo, which was badly damaged during North Atlantic Treaty Organization bombing of Serb forces in this disputed province in 1999 and is one of the major plants in the economically depressed province.
The U.N., which administers the province, also agreed to provide potential buyers with the license for exploitation and exploration of the mines, said Mechtild Henneke, a U.N. spokeswoman.
Final agreement with potential buyers will be reached sometime in May, officials said.
Kosovo is the poorest region in the Western Balkans with an annual gross domestic product per capita of around EUR1,000 and a jobless rate of at least 50%, according to European Union figures, despite the fact that is rich in mines and minerals.
The privatization of Feronikeli would be the most important selloff of socially owned enterprises, a term used for enterprises owned by the workers and managers under a system set up under communist-era Yugoslavia.
Privatization is also among the most sensitive economic issues in Kosovo, a disputed province which was put under U.N. protection in June 1999 following a NATO air war that pushed Serb forces out of the province after they cracked down on ethnic Albanians seeking independence.
The process of privatization is complex, in part because it is unclear whether Kosovo will become independent or remain part of Serbia-Montenegro, the successor state of Yugoslavia.
Serbia's authorities have fiercely opposed the process of privatization.
Many of the companies in the province are overwhelmingly inefficient and often dilapidated after years of neglect and ethnic conflict in the province.