22 March 2007

23 firms put up for sale in Kosovo privatization

Associated Press, Thursday, December 28, 2006 6:26 AM

PRISTINA, Serbia-Authorities handling privatization in Kosovo have put up for sale a brick manufacturing plant, some two dozen shops, a veterinary business, warehouses and plots of land throughout the province.

The Kosovo Trust Agency, a U.N.-run entity guiding privatization in the province, launched the sale Wednesday seeking to sell companies that were once owned by their workers and managers under a system set up in communist-era Yugoslavia.

Privatization is among the most sensitive issues in Kosovo, which was placed under U.N. administration in 1999 following NATO air strikes that ended a Serb crackdown on independence-seeking ethnic Albanians.

The process is complex in part because it is unclear whether the province will become independent or will remain linked to Serbia. Belgrade authorities are fiercely opposed to privatizations.

U.N.-brokered talks to resolve the dispute over Kosovo's final status are due to produce an outcome next year.

The agency hopes to create 28 new companies once the sales are completed, and set March 7 as a deadline for submitting bids, a statement said. Officials have already tendered out hundreds of socially owned companies.

Most of the current companies will be sold to the highest bidder, but potential buyers for several firms will have to provide an investment plan and benefits for workers.

Some of the firms offered for sale are considered inefficient and dilapidated after years of neglect, but privatization officials want private entrepreneurs to assume the risk of modernizing the industries.