Ethnic tensions raised as leading Serb politician shot dead in Mitrovica

A leading Serb politician in northern Kosovo has been shot dead, raising ethnic tensions in the region and halting EU-mediated talks between Kosovo and Serbia on the day they were due to resume.

Kosovo police officers put a yellow police tape at the location where Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic was assassinated, at the entrance of his office in the northern, Serb-dominated part of Mitrovica, Kosovo.

Assailants opened fire on Oliver Ivanovic close to the offices of his political party in the Serb-controlled northern city of Mitrovica.

He was taken to a hospital but doctors were unable to save him.

Medics said Mr Ivanovic received at least five gunshot wounds to his upper torso. The assailants escaped in a car that was later found burned out. Kosovo police sealed off the area of the shooting and are looking for the attackers.

The Serb delegation at EU talks which were due to start in Brussels immediately left to return to Belgrade.

Delegation leader Marko Djuric said that "whoever is behind this attack ... whether they are Serb, Albanian or any other criminals, they must be punished".

Mr Ivanovic, 64, was one of the key politicians in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo, a former Serbian province where tensions remain high a decade after it declared independence. Serbia does not recognise the independence of its former province and the killing is likely to raise tensions between ethnic Albanians and minority Serbs in the region.

In Belgrade, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic called a top state security meeting to discuss the shooting, ahead of planned public address.

Kosovo president Hashim Thaci strongly denounced the killing, and called on law enforcement authorities "to throw light as soon as possible on the circumstances of the death so that the perpetrators are brought to justice".

He also urged citizens in the north to cooperate with police.

Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj said the killing is "a punishable criminal act".

He said "exploiting this tragic act for daily political goals, even to block processes aiming at normalising ties between two countries, is against the logic and spirit of cooperation".

He added: "Kosovo remains committed to create a safe environment for all its citizens and is powerfully set in its Euro-Atlantic path."

He also insisted that Kosovo authorities will do their utmost to investigate the killing, adding that they will "in no situation accept the logic of calculating criminal acts for political purposes by anyone".

A Kosovo court convicted Mr Ivanovic of war crimes during the 1998-99 war. That verdict was overturned and a retrial was under way.

Mr Ivanovic was considered a moderate opposition Serb politician. In July, his car was set on fire in Mitrovica, the Serb stronghold in northern Kosovo.

- PA


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