BELGRADE – British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto Plc is ready to invest in mineral exploration in Serbia and Montenegro, a senior company official told Reuters. «We think Serbia and Montenegro, for certain select commodities, is a good place for us to spend some of our risk funds each year,» said David Klinger, head of Rio Tinto’s exploration team, late on Tuesday. «We think that the country is improving all the time and I hope we will be proven to be right,» he said. Klinger said Rio Tinto was in serious talks with Serbia’s state-owned mining and smelting copper firm Rudarsko-topionicarski Basen Bor (RTB Bor) on carrying out exploration in eastern Serbia. Rio Tinto began to look at the area around the town of Bor back in 1997 because of the prospects in finding gold as well as copper there. «We hope that we will end up agreeing that we will go ahead and carry out some exploration with the Bor (company),» Klinger said. RTB Bor executives told Reuters last month the deal would be signed in July, but Klinger refused to specify the date. Serbia and Montenegro, the loose union that replaced Yugoslavia in February, is struggling to recover after a decade of bloodshed and international isolation under Slobodan Milosevic. The reformers who ousted Milosevic as Yugoslav president almost three years ago are seeking to bring the impoverished Balkan country closer to Western Europe, hoping to attract badly needed foreign investment to boost economic growth. Klinger said he was fully aware that political and economic risks still exist. «Exploration is a high-risk business. And sometimes in exploration, technical risks and commercial risks of the host country must be combined.» He did not give details of the possible deal with RTB Bor but said the project would initially involve the investment of a few hundred thousand dollars on geological research and surface investigation. In June, one of RTB Bor’s executives told Reuters that Rio Tinto was ready to invest $5.0 million over the next three to five years to explore the company’s Crni Vrh site, which is believed to contain ore rich with copper, gold, silver, zinc and lead.