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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

Serb leader’s death in Kosovo raises Balkan tensions

Unknown assailants opened fire on Oliver Ivanovic, 64, in the Serb-controlled city of Mitrovica

People light candles during a gathering to commemorate Kosovo Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic, in Saint Sava church in Belgrade. Igor Pavicevic / Reuters
People light candles during a gathering to commemorate Kosovo Serb leader Oliver Ivanovic, in Saint Sava church in Belgrade. Igor Pavicevic / Reuters

A leading Serb politician was shot to death on Tuesday near his political party’s office in northern Kosovo, an attack that raised ethnic tensions in the Balkans and prompted the suspension of European Union-mediated talks between Kosovo and Serbia.

Unknown assailants opened fire on Oliver Ivanovic, 64, in the Serb-controlled northern city of Mitrovica. Mr Ivanovic was taken to a hospital, but doctors were unable to save him.

An autopsy showed he was shot six times in the upper torso. The assailants escaped in a car that was later found burned out. Kosovo police sealed off the area of the shooting while they searched for suspects.

Mr Ivanovic was one of the key politicians in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo, a province where tensions remain high a decade after Kosovo declared independence in 2008. Serbia does not recognise Kosovo as a separate country.

He was considered a moderate who maintained relations with Nato and EU officials after Serbia lost control of northern Kosovo following Nato's 1999 bombing to stop a deadly Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.

Mr Ivanovic, who was married with three children, had enemies both among Kosovo Albanians and nationalist Serbs because of his moderate policies.

A Kosovo court convicted him of war crimes from the 1998-99 war. The verdict was overturned and a retrial was under way.

In Pristina, the Kosovo government strongly denounced the slaying, saying it considered the attack a challenge to “efforts to establish the rule of law in the whole of Kosovo territory”. Kosovo police offered a €10,000 (Dh40,000) reward for information about the attackers.

In Belgrade, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic held a top security meeting to discuss the attack. Mr Vucic called Ivanovic’s killing “a terrorist act” and said Serbia would demand to be included in any investigations carried out by international missions based in Kosovo.

“Serbia will take all necessary steps so the killer or killers are found,” he said.

Serbian foreign minister Ivica Dacic said the killing threatened the stability of both Serb-populated northern Kosovo and the whole Balkan region.

After a meeting of Kosovo’s national security council, prime minister Ramush Haradinaj rejected Serbia’s demand to take part in the investigation and said he might invite the FBI.