Environment

Serbia scraps spatial plan for Rio Tinto’s lithium mining project, all permits

Serbia scraps spatial plan Rio Tinto lithium mining project permits

Photo: Government of Serbia

Published

January 20, 2022

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Published:

January 20, 2022

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The Government of Serbia annulled its decree on the spatial plan for Rio Tinto’s lithium mine and processing plant, and fulfilled everything that environmentalist organizations demanded, Prime Minister Ana Brnabić said.

“We never had contracts, as we said several times,” Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić stated after her cabinet canceled its decree on the spatial plan for the special purpose area for the implementation of the exploitation and processing of the jadarite mineral from February 13, 2020. She asserted that the government fulfilled all demands from environmentalist groups, which led to massive protests organized by the Ecological Uprising, the Alliance of Environmental Organizations of Serbia (SEOS), civic platform Akcija, Don’t Let Belgrade Drown movement and others.

The demands she referred to were submitted by the Kreni-promeni initiative, which held a protest this evening in front of the building of the Office of the President in Belgrade.

Any organization can see all documentation

By annulling the said decree, “all administrative acts concerning the company Rio Tinto or Rio Sava Exploration, all licenses, all decisions and everything else” have been abolished, Brnabić said. Given that the demands included the publishing of all agreements, she said any environmentalist organization can get copies and added her staff would help with analyzing them.

The collection covers all the activities of Rio Tinto and its abovementioned subsidiary, according to the prime minister. She noted the first document, from 2002, is an agreement with the United Kingdom on reciprocal promotion and protection of investments, and that on June 8, 2004, the Anglo-Australian mining giant got its first license for conducting geological exploration from the Ministry of Mining and Energy.

Brnabić said that the Law on Mining from 2006 introduced the continuity principle – an exclusive right for a company examining ore reserves to exploit it as well.

Brnabić accuses foreign foundations

The prime minister added that, in line with the demands, the government disbanded the task force it formed on April 9 of last year for the implementation of the Jadar project. “I lack words to describe the hypocrisy of foreigners that finance these organizations and these foreigners. And, let me be completely clear, I spoke to several ambassadors and passed the same message to them,” she stated.

The biggest funders of environmentalist groups are “certainly, from the United States of America” – the Rockefeller Foundation, US Agency for International Development (USAID), Open Society Foundations, National Endowment for Democracy, Edge Funders Alliance and many others, Brnabić asserted. She also pointed to the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, British Council, the Heinrich Böll Foundation from Germany, Riverwatch from Austria and others. The prime minister claims they are involved in the establishment and activities of environmentalist organizations.

Rio Tinto absolutely didn’t provide enough information

On the other hand, Brnabić said she understood the citizens’ concern about the environmental impact of Rio Tinto’s lithium project, adding that she never heard before from anyone there was an issue. “Rio Tinto absolutely didn’t provide enough information to the people in Jadar, Rađevina, in local places and local villages. It also didn’t provide enough information to the Government of the Republic of Serbia, she underscored.

The prime minister said there were no meetings with Rio Tinto since President Aleksandar Vučić visited the village of Gornje Nedeljice.

Activists say it isn’t over

One of the protest organizers Marija Alimpić, from the Protect Jadar and Rađevina association, said the location permits that were received in accordance with the spatial plan also need to be abolished and that the construction land must be turned back to being agricultural and forest land.

“The people that participated in this organized crime must be sanctioned. Someone abused office. Someone issued illegal permits,” she stated. Alimpić asked who would rehabilitate the sites of 528 drill holes and the damage that the company made and whether the exploration of lithium would continue to be allowed.

Rio Tinto built a dam on the Rakovica river and some of the drill holes are still leaking, she added. The Protect Jadar and Rađevina association and Coalition for Sustainable Mining in Serbia have sent their demands already on December 16 but the prime minister didn’t mention them at all, she added.

The Kreni-promeni campaign has also demanded a 20-year moratorium on the exploration and mining of boron and lithium.

Rio Tinto said it is “considering the legal basis” for Serbia’s decision and the implications that it can have on its activities in the country.

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