Pristina, Kosovo (ANTARA News) - The world`s biggest copper producer, Phelps Dodge, has won a license to dig in Kosovo, the first such project in the UN-run Serbian province, the UN Mission (UNMIK) said Thursday.
Phelps was granted the exploration license for northeastern Kosovo by the Independent Commission for Mines and Minerals (ICMM), which is jointly run by international and local officials in the southern Serbian province.
Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since the end of 1998-99 war between Serbian troops and ethnic Albanian guerillas seeking independence of Kosovo.
Until now, no companies have mined for copper in Kosovo, but authorities have issued about 60 licenses since April, and the province is believed to contain a minimum of 13.5 billion euros (16 billion dollars) worth of minerals and metals, including copper, zinc and lead.
Phelps Dodge and its two divisions, Phelps Dodge Mining and Phelps Dodge Industries employ more than 15,500 people worldwide, said it was "prepared to directly invest some 500 million euros in Kosovo, should the deposit reveal itself substantial enough to warrant a mega-mine."
UNMIK noted that "the exploration license specifies that work must be started within 90 days."
ICMM official Alexander Valenta called the contract a "major development and the first of its kind in Kosovo.
"For years, we have suspected that the region was rich in copper resources," Valenta said.
He added that several other major mining firms "have expressed definite interest in Kosovo`s copper and other resources and more interest is expected over coming months."
Still technically part of Serbia, Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since a NATO bombing campaign ended a Serbian crackdown on separatists in 1999.
The UNMIK announcement came three days after UN special envoy Martti Ahtisari, charged with leading negotiations on the status of Kosovo, launched initial talks and shuttle diplomacy between Belgrade and Pristina, AFP reported.(*)