A leading Serb politician from Kosovo, Oliver Ivanović, was shot dead on Tuesday morning, just one month before the 10th anniversary of Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia.
Local media report that Ivanović was hit by at least three bullets during a drive by shooting outside his party headquarters in north Mitrovica, a city tensely divided along ethnic lines between Serbs and Kosovar Albanians. Ivanović was found seriously injured by a neighbor who called an ambulance that took him to hospital where he was pronounced dead a short while later.
In a statement, Kosovan government called the killing “a challenge to the rule of law in the country” adding that violence is unacceptable “no matter where it comes from and who the target is.” Pristina has appealed to the citizens to work with all the security bodies involved in the investigation into Ivanović’s murder.
Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić called the assassination a terrorist attack and said he has asked EU and UN officials for Serbian security forces be involved in the investigation. “For the Serbian state, it is a terrorist act, that’s how we see it,” said the President.
The Serbian president called for a session of the National Security Council and in the afternoon was called by the Mayor of North Mitrovica, Goran Rakić, for an urgent meeting with representatives of the Kosovar police, the EU legal mission to Kosovo, Eulex and the NATO-led peacekeeping force, KFOR.
Serb delegates who had been due to meet with their Kosovar counterparts in Brussels to discuss normalising relations between the two countries, pulled out of those talks and flew back to Serbia when news of Ivanovic’s murder reached them.
Oliver Ivanović, one of the most prominent Kosovo Serbs leaders, was regarded as a moderate who was given to criticising Belgrade’s policies towards Kosovo and unusually for a Serb politician was fluent in Albanian. That being said Ivanovic was arrested in 2014 accused of involvement in the murder of 10 Albanians in the divided city of Mitrovica in 2000. The former head of the “guardians of the bridge”, the Serbian local defense, who entered politics in 1999, denied the accusations, but was sentenced in January 2016 to nine years in prison by EULEX judges. The verdict was challenged by the Pristina Court of Appeal who had ordered a repeat of the trial.
The Head of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Mission in Kosovo, Jan Braathu, said the murder was “profoundly distressing” and a “major test for the rule of law in Kosovo,” according to CNN.
“He demonstrated relentless engagement for the benefit of his community and has been a valued interlocutor in Kosovo,” said Braathu.
“I have had the privilege of knowing him personally over the years and have always admired his intellect, composure, and commitment. To see that a politician can be murdered in cold blood in 2018 in Kosovo is a devastating thought.”