PRISTINA, Serbia-Montenegro (AP) - Authorities in Kosovo completed Thursday the sale of a nickel plant, the largest private foreign investment in the impoverished province since the end of the war in 1999, officials said.
The British-based company Alferon/IMR, part of Eurasian Natural Resources group, which is among the world's largest private mining and metals groups, bought Kosovo's Feronikeli for euro30.5 million, or about US$ 37 million, a U.N. statement said.
The plant consists of three open pit mines with ferronickel ore reserves and a metallurgical complex, it said.
The Feronikeli plant in central Kosovo suffered structural damage during NATO bombing of Serb forces in the disputed province in 1999. It remains one of the major employers in the economically depressed province.
Its privatization is the most important sale so far of socially owned firms, a term used for enterprises run by their employees under the system of self-management that existed in communist-ruled Yugoslavia.
Alferon/IMR were declared winners of the bid for the plant last year, but the signing of the contract and the purchase were delayed following negotiations on electricity supply for the complex.
A handover ceremony will take place next month, the U.N. said.
Kosovo, which formally remains a part of Serbia, has been run by the United Nations since the end of the war in 1999. The province is the poorest region in the western Balkans.
Privatization is among the most sensitive issues in Kosovo, as it is still unclear whether the province will become independent or remain part of Serbia-Montenegro, the successor state of Yugoslavia.
Serbia's authorities, which want to maintain some control over Kosovo, have fiercely opposed the privatizations, while Kosovo's ethnic Albanian authorities are eager to sell assets, open investment opportunities and create jobs.