MAC/20: Mines and Communities

Serbia: Criminal charges filed against Zijin for pollution

Published by MAC on 2020-10-13
Source: Serbian Monitor, Balkan Green Energy, Euronews

Sulfur dioxide smoke covered the city of Bor and hundreds protested in Smederevo against toxic dust

When the COVID-19 pandemic started early in 2020, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic angrily declared that Serbs could no longer rely on the European Union for support. Serbia could count on just one ally, Vucic said, the People’s Republic of China.

In September, the Bor municipal administration filed a criminal complaint against the managers of the Bor copper smelter, which operates as part of the Chinese company Zijin, for causing excessive sulfur dioxide pollution. The criminal charges were signed by the Mayor, Aleksandar Milikić.

In August, several hundred people gathered in Smederevo demanding the government to react to air pollution from local steel plant Železara. Organizers claim the facility owned by China-based Hesteel, also known as HBIS, is breaking the law. Protesters temporarily blocked the railway and the Danube river port used by the company for the transportation of iron ore. Hesteel’s operations generate toxic dust and the situation has worsened.

See also:

2012-10-08 Serbians Unite Against Nickel Extraction
2010-09-27 Armenian & Serbs oppose revival of mining plans

Serbia has rolled out the red carpet to China - but at what cost?

Milivoje Pantovic

https://www.euronews.com/2020/10/08/serbia-has-rolled-out-the-red-carpet-to-china-but-at-what-cost

08/10/2020

When the COVID-19 pandemic started early in 2020, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic angrily declared that Serbs could no longer rely on the European Union for support. Serbia could count on just one ally, Vucic said, the People’s Republic of China.

Since the beginning of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, under which Beijing has invested in infrastructure projects in dozens of countries. From mines to highways, factories to railways, Chinese investment has poured into Serbia since 2016.

China’s presence in Serbia is not new, links between the two nations were first forged during the time of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, but Chinese presence was visible only in rare cultural events and small Chinese merchant community located in the district of New Belgrade.

Speaking earlier this year, Vucic described the relationship between the two nations as a “friendship of steel”, a fitting description given the recent purchase by China’s HBIS Group of a steel mill in the city of Smederevo.

The deal is a beneficial one for China, given that the mill’s €300 million of debt has now been taken on by Serbian tax-payers, with the project described as a “saviour programme” for the city and the Serbian economy in general.

But the citizens of Smederevo - and nearby towns and villages - got more than they bargained for.

Vladimir Milic, an activist with the Tvrdjava - meaning ‘The Fort’ - NGO told Euronews that iron dust from the steel mill has coated everything within 10 kilometres from the plant.

“We are desperate. People are coughing, you can not open the windows and even the plants are covered in dust. We can not sell our products and the majority of us are not working in the factory-what we will live on,” he said.

Milic said that the locals are preparing a lawsuit against the company, while numerous petitions and reports were filed to the Serbian institutions regarding the pollution, but nothing has been done so far.

“We have protested in the streets but the government and the company are silent. We even found out that the government gave for free usage [of] the local port on [the] Danube river to the company, free of charge for the next 50 years,” he said.

The situation is similar in the city of Bor, whose residents took to the streets in their thousands last week to protest pollution after a Chinese company, Zijin, bought a mine there in 2018.

The mine is the largest copper mine complex in the Balkan region and its operation has led to a surge in pollution. In September, levels of 1645 mg of SO2 were recorded in the air, more than ten times the 125 mg permitted by law.

Local activist and opposition politician Irena Zivkovic said that arsenic in the air was 200 times over the allowed concentration just last year. She also told Euronews that heavy metals were detected way above the permitted levels.

“When we asked for the official data about [its] influence on public health, how many newly diseased people are in the region - lung diseases, cancer - we did not get an answer from the institutions,” she said.

Zivkovic said that Bor’s local government has refused to answer citizens’ questions about air quality.

Since the takeover in 2018, Serbian courts have fined Zijin three times for pollution. But in accordance with the local law, fines can not exceed €26,000 for this offence.

Neither Zijin nor HBIS Group responded to Euronews' requests for comment on this issue. The Serbian government did not answer questions submitted by Euronews.

Critics fear that as Serbia becomes a test case and model for Chinese investment in poorer, more indebted European countries, state assets are sold off at a cost to the local citizens and already flimsy environmental protections are cast by the wayside without repercussions.

They say Serbia is in desperate need of investment and the government has already shown a willingness to bypass normal regulatory protocol in order to shift a weak asset quickly, including the recent sale of Belgrade waterfront to a company from the United Arab Emirates.

Meanwhile, the business cooperation between the two nations has come hand in hand with security and military cooperation. Until it was shelved in the face of criticism from Washington, Serbia was close to purchasing China’s FK-3 rocket system, becoming the first country outside China to use the system.

But Serbia has already acquired Chinese CH-92A drones and Serbian defence minister Aleksandar Vulin recently said China has donated military equipment to the country.

In return, China has received political support from Belgrade, including Serbia’s backing of Beijing’s policy towards the Muslim Uighur community. Serbia is the only European nation to back Beijing’s claims that it is “fighting terrorism and extremism” in north-west China.

“It is obvious China makes [a] breakthrough to Europe via the Balkans, and especially Serbia,” said Vuk Vuksanovic, an associate at LSE IDEAS, the London School of Economics’ foreign policy thinktank.

Vuksanovic said Serbia’s status as a European Union candidate but not yet a member, makes it desirable to Beijing, which wants a foothold in Europe without the regulatory burden that comes from formal membership of the bloc.

It can add the support of Serbia to that of EU members Greece and Hungary, which have also emerged as friendly to Beijing, backing them in the European Parliament.

But Vuksanovic expects the spat over Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to make Serbia’s attempts to be close to both China and the US more challenging. Belgrade has become increasingly close to the US under President Donald Trump, but the White House is unlikely to look kindly it Serbia does not get in line with its all-out war against Huawei.

Huawei recently installed almost 1,000 high-definition cameras, which use facial and licence plate recognition software but also video management systems, at 60 key sites in Belgrade. There are also plans for a data centre in the city of Kragujevac in cooperation with Huawei.

“It will be a tough dilemma. Belgrade can buy time but when Washington hits Huawei, Serbia will have to decide where it stands. And it will happen,” he said.



The Bor authorities file criminal charges against Zijin for pollution

Snezana Bjelotomic

https://www.serbianmonitor.com/en/the-bor-authorities-file-criminal-charges-against-zijin-for-pollution/

15/09/2020

The Bor municipal administration filed a criminal complaint against the managers of the Chinese company Zijin which has been causing excessive sulfur dioxide pollution harmful to the health of the population.

The criminal charges were signed by the mayor of Bor, Aleksandar Milikić, and refer to the managers of the Bor copper smelter, which operates as part of the Chinese company, Zijin.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (SEPA) measuring stations have been recording excessive sulfur dioxide (SO2) pollution in Bor for three days, and the pollution has repeated almost every day for nearly two years since Serbia sold the Bor Smelting Company to its strategic partner Zijin, while remaining co-owner of 37% of the capital.

The level of sulphur dioxide in the air, allowed by law, is 350 microgrammes per cubic metre, while on Monday, average values reached 1,969 microgrammes several times during the day. The conclusion was that the air is “very polluted” and the Bor population was advised against leaving their homes. The air in the same place is “heavily polluted” by PM10 particles too.

On Monday around 1 pm, in the town centre and the area around the Technical Faculty of Bor, were polluted by a strong gas which caused passersby to tear up.

Automated metering stations in August measured excessive pollution in the main park in the town for 18 straight days and the largest peak was on August 4, when more than 3,800 microgrammes of sulphur dioxide per metre were present in the air – 11 times higher than allowed.

The environmental inspectors of the Ministry of Ecology disagree on the fact that these are “environmental crimes against the population”.

The representatives of Zijin said in June, in the presence of the Serbian Premier Ana Brnabic and the Minister of Mining and Energy. Aleksandar Antic, that they would prevent the release of harmful gases into the air starting from June, while the release of harmful substances in Bor continued even after June.



Protest held in Serbia’s Smederevo against pollution from China-owned steelworks


The inhabitants of Smederevo are worried about the dust coming from the Železara steel power plant and its transportation activities, which prompted a demonstration to urge the authorities to act against air and land pollution.

Igor Todorović

https://balkangreenenergynews.com/protest-held-in-serbias-smederevo-against-pollution-from-china-owned-steelworks/

August 24, 2020

Several hundred people have gathered in Smederevo, east from Serbia’s capital city Belgrade, demanding from the government to react to air pollution from local steel plant Železara. Organizers claim the facility owned by China-based Hesteel, also known as HBIS, is breaking the law.

Protesters temporarily blocked the railway and the Danube river port used by the company for the transportation of iron ore. Local activist group Pokret TvrÄ‘ava and other environmentalists said Hesteel’s operations generate toxic dust and that the situation has worsened since the 2016 takeover.

Locals accuse the firm of failing to introduce measures to avoid air pollution and other damaging effects. Pokret TvrÄ‘ava organized the rally also to express opposition to the decision to allow Hesteel to use the port for 25 years and the possibility to extend the license for another quarter of a century. Organizers said the Chinese company doesn’t need to pay anything for the service.

Nikola Krstić from Pokret Tvrđava announced private lawsuits would be filed against HBIS in cooperation with villagers from Radinci, situated next to the steelworks. In the latest incident, the area around Železara was covered by black dust.

It resembled steel scrapings. Environmental authorities later identified it as siderite, from which iron is produced.

The activist stated workers were threatened with dismissal if they join the protest. Krstić said there was blackmail and pressure on the organizers’ families, but didn’t name anyone allegedly responsible.

Home | About Us | Companies | Countries | Minerals | Contact Us
© Mines and Communities 2013. Web site by Zippy Info