UN cites Serb threat to Kosovo's energy
By Harry de Quetteville at Gazivoda Dam
Last Updated: 3:05am GMT 15/12/2007
Kosovo's electricity and water supplies could be cut off by Serbs when the province declares independence, the United Nations has said.
The threat emerged as the European Union agreed to send a 1,800-strong police and civilian mission to the area to maintain peace between the majority ethnic Albanian population and the minority Serbs.
The EU also sought to win over Serbia to the idea of independence for a territory many Serbs regard as part of their country by offering it membership of the Union.
But the Serbian prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, said the EU mission would create a "puppet state" and that the idea of joining the EU was "an insult".
With Kosovo Albanians set to declare independence next month, UN officals fear that the small Serb population in the north of the province, under instructions from Belgrade, could shut down the Gazivoda reservoir, which supplies 60 per cent of Kosovo's water.
"Because the reservoir is in the north it is a potential vulnerability," said Paul Acda, a former UK customs officer who now heads the UN office in charge of reconstruction in Kosovo. "UNMIK [the United Nations Mission in Kosovo] is aware of that vulnerability."
Mr Acda said the UN was putting in place contingency plans, noting: "We were concerned we could become reliant on Gazivoda."
Gazivoda's water is used both for drinking and as a coolant in Kosovo's main power station.
"The Gazivoda complex is critically important for Kosovo, but the people running the installation are all Serbs from the local area," said another senior international official in Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.
"Without Gazivoda it is questionable whether Kosovo could survive - not just for drinking water, but also for electricity."
The Kosovo B power station, 30 miles south-east of Gazivoda, produces two-thirds of the province's electricity. "Without water the plant would have to shut down. It would be a critical problem for Kosovo," said Nezir Sinani of the Kosovo Energy Corporation.
Mechthild Henneke, of UNMIK, said that if the Serbs turned off the dam, "Kosovo would have only enough electricity to power key institutions, like hospitals".
Beyond sourcing alternative supplies, Mr Acda said that UNMIK was considering "putting people on the ground and using diplomatic pressure" to ensure that the flow of water continues.
But others intimately acquainted with the problem speak in more dramatic terms. "There aren't any solutions for Gazivoda," said a senior official. "Everyone's edging around the subject.
"Can you send in NATO troops? How would that play internationally?"
He added that Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, had been heard to threaten: "If you're thinking about putting troops around Gazivoda - don't."