British firms seek lucrative deals

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The Independent Online
BRITISH COMPANIES hope to win contracts worth hundreds of thousands of pounds helping to rebuild Kosovo.

Within days of the peace settlement being brokered, the Department of Trade and Industry organised a fact-finding mission to the region. It was led by the Industry minister John Battle and reported back to 250 British companies interested in pitching for contracts.

Initially British businesses will be looking for opportunities within the sector under British control. This sector includes the Kosovo capital Pristina, which will become increasingly important because of the international community being based there, but which was also one of the least damaged areas of Kosovo.

"At this stage it is very difficult to say how much things will be worth to British businesses," said Tim Askew, a director of consultants WS Atkins and one of the members of the fact-finding taskforce. Pristina was less damaged than other places. The big problems arelack of documents and lack of management. There will be a lot of opportunities in this area."

There is also concern about British access to other sectors. The fact- finding mission, made up of eight members, was told that it would be difficult to visit sectors controlled by other forces, such as France, Italy and Germany. There are fears that firms from these countries will have already secured the best contracts. Concerns will not have been eased by the appointment of Bodo Hombach, Chancellor Gerhard Schroder's right hand man, as the European Union's figure in charge or overseeing reconstruction contracts.

Observers in Germany point out that Mr Hombach, a "business-friendly" Social Democrat, has a lot of friends in the German business world who will be lobbying to lend a hand with Kosovo's reconstruction.