Swiss building materials group Holderbank has signed a ten year lease to manage and operate the Sharr cement plant in Kosovo.
Under the contract, the first such involving a foreign firm since the end of the inter-ethnic strife in Kosovo a year ago, Holderbank will invest SFr27 million in capital equipment to upgrade the plant, plus undisclosed extra amounts for training and social and environmental projects.
The agreement was signed with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), which has run the province as a protectorate since Yugoslav forces were expelled after an 11 week Nato bombing campaign.
Holderbank representative Yvo Gissler said his company realised the commercial risk in a territory like Kosovo, whose future is undecided, was greater than elsewhere, but as UNMIK is the partner rather than a local firm "the risk is not outrageous".
He added that the Sharr plant needed repairs and refurbishment but had not been damaged in the fighting and was not greatly outdated.
Holderbank, which already has interests in Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia, said the Kosovo investment completed its Balkan strategy.
Although the Swiss firm will plough back 20 per cent of annual profits into a workers' fund and will pay a lease of between one and two million Swiss francs per year, Gissler said the investment was attractive.
"In view of the destruction of so many homes during the conflict...there's a lot of cement needed around here," he said.
Holderbank has guaranteed employment to the firm's 741 workers for the next five years.
swissinfo with agencies