Serbian PM:”Rio Tinto owns substantial land in Serbia, we cannot just seize it from them”

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Prime Minister Ana Brnabić have recently mentioned the possibility of returning to the previously aborted lithium mining project, implemented by the multinational mining giant Rio Tinto, drawing criticism from environmental activists who have long claimed the government was just waiting to revive the project.

Savo Manojlovic, from the organisation Kreni-promeni (Move-change), known for staging protests against the project, said on Sunday that they knew they had only won a battle, not the war, when the government seemed to back down.

“It was a battle won, but it never completely stopped. And between campaigns, the President of Serbia and Prime Minister Ana Brnabić lobbied for Rio Tinto,” Manojlović told N1 TV.

Faced with growing public opposition to the project, due to fears of environmental damage, the government called off the project in January 2022, but critics speculated that the halt was only temporary.

On Sunday, the Serbian Prime Minister said that Rio Tinto still owns a “significant amount of land” in Serbia that cannot be taken away.

“You cannot take that land away from the company. If you do that, you are embarking on nationalization. If you embark on nationalization, then there is no legal security in this country either for investors or legal entities,” she told Pink TV.

“Not a single millimetre of land owned by Rio Tinto is the result of expropriation. The company offered money to land owners and they sold it. You cannot take that land away,” she said.

A BIRN investigation published in February 2023 showed that Rio Tinto spent at least 1.2 million euros on buying land in Serbia at the proposed site of a lithium mine even after the project was formally cancelled. Brnabić also stated that Rio Tinto first came to Serbia before 2004, when, she said, the laws on mining were changed. Old laws stipulated that when a company has exploration rights, they are automatically assigned exploitation rights. “Based on that, Rio Tinto can sue Serbia today,” she warned.

(N1, 21.01.2024)

This post is also available in: Italiano

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