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November 7, 1994
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 163

Black Gold on Lake Skadar

by Velizar Brajovic

The main republican inspectors for water resources management and ecology, Nikola Spahic and Zoran Knezevic, declined to participate in the work of the commission which was selecting locations for decanting oil on the shores of Lake Skadar and the Bojana River. Zoran Knezevic sought two years' salary (as the law requires) and ended his working relationship under agreement, while Nikola Spahic was relieved of his duties and given a notice of dismissal on the same day. Spahic is probably the only government official in Montenegro to be dealt with in that manner since 1948.

The legality of the conduct of the Montenegrin government and Ministry for agriculture, forestry and water resources is being assessed these days by Judge Ranka Vukovic in the Circuit Court in Podgorica (capital of Montengro), where Spahic raised a grievance against the Montenegrin government, with the demand that he be returned to his job.

The Commission to choose the new inspector will also have to consider the application of Mr. Spahic, who entered the public written competition for the position. The announcement was made September 28, but according to unoffical information, the main inspector has not yet been chosen. It is unclear whether the choice is being put off because of the legal procedure and the many requests that Spahic be returned to his previous job; however, we have also independently learned that an inspector who will not be "a disturbing factor" will be chosen.

Nikola Spahic's misfortunes began at the same time as the international community's sanctions, which compelled Montenegro to smuggle petrol from Albania across Lake Skadar. This was done in a very primitive manner - the petrol spilled onto the lake, creating oil spots, and there was a danger of great damage. This finally happened at the beginning of May when the Montenegrin "oil industry" was shaken by an explosion at one of the main decanting points - Plavnica, not far from Podgorica. No one ever established how much petrol spilled into the lake then. Nikola Spahic constantly called attention to all of this, denounced those responsible, made related decisions, and reported to state security. However, he was unable to restrain the "oil fever" that had overcome all of Montenegro, especially the government, which filled the state coffers with profits from oil smuggling in addition to the registers of various private companies that have, in accordance with tradition, close ties to the highest levels of government.

Nikola Spahic informed Prime Minister Mile Djukanovic of all of this in a letter dated June 16, warning that the transport of petrol directly endangers the wells in Lisna bori (along the Bojana River bank) which supply Ulcinj (coastal city near Albania) with drinking water. He also informed the PM that every petrol shipment posed the threat of pollution and heavy consequences.

When this issue was raised in the Montenegrin Parliament on June 28 because of the chaotic situation on the lake, along with the question of whether it was true that the two main water resources management and ecology inspectors were under suspension, PM Djukanovic said that the representatives would consider information about pollution of the lake when he decides, and that the inspectors were not about to be suspended, but were relieved of their duties, and that the Parliament could not get involved in the matter. However, it turned out that Spahic was not relieved until July 21 and that he was given a notice of dismissal on that same day.

Petrol continues to flow across the lake unhindered, either swept across the sparkling surface by the wind or by specially-made barges with a capacity of up to one-hundred tons. During the past three to four months, the shore of Lake Skadar has turned into a construction site. Bulldozers and mines have cleared access roads to improvised ports built to receive shipments from Albania, which has gone unnoticed by the authorities of the National Park in which the lake is located. Historical monuments, even parts of bridges from the Roman road from Duklja (ancient name for Podgorica) to Skadar, have been found on these roads. The government and the police have chosen trustworthy people to manage the points near the border crossing of Bozaj, on the Bojana River bank. Similar ports have also been built on the Albanian side and it could be said that there are no problems and that everything is flowing in the right direction.

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