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Kosovo PM Alleges Foreign Role In Serb Political Leader's Killing


A photo of Oliver Ivanovic is posted on the building of his office in Mitrovica near where he was assassinated on the morning of January 16.
A photo of Oliver Ivanovic is posted on the building of his office in Mitrovica near where he was assassinated on the morning of January 16.

MITROVICA, Kosovo -- Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj has suggested that the slaying of a leading ethnic Serb political leader in the country's north was the result of illegal interference coming from outside the country.

Oliver Ivanovic was shot dead on January 16 in the Serb-dominated northern part of the divided city of Mitrovica in an attack that has raised tensions in the Balkans and prompted the suspension of EU-facilitated talks between Kosovo and Serbia.

“We think that this crime, as well as certain criminal developments taking place in the north, are the result of illegal involvement in the north of other institutions beyond Kosovo,” Haradinaj said following a meeting of Kosovo's National Security Council.

He did not elaborate.

Haradinaj also rejected Serbia's demand to take part in the investigation and said he might invite the FBI.

Speaking after the Kosovo Security Council issued a statement saying the country remained "calm and stable," Haradinaj said "Kosovo citizens should not get worried about the level of security. All institutions are on duty," including NATO's peacekeeping force in the country.

Ivanovic's lawyer, Nebojsa Vlajic, told RFE/RL that Ivanovic was shot in front of his office at 8:15 a.m., and doctors at a hospital in Mitrovica said they confirmed his death at 9:15 a.m.

Ivanovic sustained at least five gunshot wounds to his upper torso, Vlajic cited doctors as saying.

Media reports in Serbia described the killing as a drive-by shooting carried out by more than one assailant while Ivanovic was entering his office on Sutjeska Street in northern Mitrovica.

Police said they believe a burned-out Opel Astra car found later on another Mitrovica street was used by the perpetrators.

Police remove a burned-out car that they suspect was involved in Oliver Ivanovic's killing.
Police remove a burned-out car that they suspect was involved in Oliver Ivanovic's killing.

In Pristina, Kosovar President Hashim Thaci 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."

A statement issued on Thaci’s Facebook page also urged Kosovar citizens in the north to cooperate with police as their investigation continues.

The government in Pristina said it considered the killing an attack on "the rule of law and efforts to establish the rule of law in the whole of Kosovo territory."

In Brussels, Serbian delegates walked out of talks with Kosovar authorities that had just gotten under way -- the latest attempt to improve severely strained relations between Serbia and Kosovo.

'Push For Chaos'

The leader of Belgrade's delegation, Marko Djuric, said he and other Serbian delegates were returning to Belgrade because of "Ivanovic's murder."

Djuric, who heads of the Serbian government's Office for Kosovo and Metohija, said the killing was "an attempt to push the Serbian people into chaos, to push Serbia into chaos."

He said that "whoever is behind this attack…whether they are Serb, Albanian, or any other criminals, they must be punished."

Avni Arifi, who heads the Kosovo delegation at the EU talks, called on Belgrade to return to the negotiations, telling Klan Kosova TV that "there is no alternative to the dialogue."

EU foreign-policy chief Federica Mogherini spoke to the presidents of both Serbia and Kosovo by telephone after the killing of Ivanovic.

A statement from Mogherini's office said she urged all sides "to show calm and restraint" and to allow the rule of law to take its course.

Mogherini also said the EU's Rule of Law mission in Kosovo (EULEX) would support the investigation by Kosovar authorities "in accordance with its mandate."

The EU-facilitated talks in Brussels -- which had last taken place in March 2017 -- were scheduled to continue through January 18 and were aimed at pushing forward with the normalization of relations between Pristina and Belgrade.

Contentious Issues

Issues on the agenda of the Brussels talks included contentious issues surrounding a proposal for the creation of an Association of Serb Majority Municipalities in Kosovo.

Although Kosovo declared independence in 2008, Belgrade still claims the former Serbian province as part of its territory.

The normalization of ties between Pristina and Belgrade is also a key issue tied to the EU-membership ambitions of both Serbia and Kosovo.

In Belgrade, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic scheduled an emergency meeting of the National Security Council on January 16 to discuss the implications of the killing.

Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj (file photo)
Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj (file photo)

Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said in a Facebook statement that "exploiting this tragic act for daily political goals, even to block processes aiming at normalizing ties between two countries, is against the logic and spirit of cooperation."

"Kosovo remains committed to create a safe environment for all its citizens and is powerfully set in its Euro-Atlantic path," Haradinaj said.

He also said Pristina would "in no situation accept the logic of calculating criminal acts for political purposes by anyone."

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic peaks to reporters in Belgrade on January 16.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic peaks to reporters in Belgrade on January 16.

In Belgrade, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic called the killing "a terrorist act" and said that Serbia is demanding that international missions in Kosovo include Serbia in their investigation into the slaying.

"Serbia will take all necessary steps so the killer or killers are found," Vucic added.

During a visit to Montenegro, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said that "the most important thing is to preserve stability in the north of Kosovo."

"When the stability of northern Kosovo is jeopardized, the stability of the entire Kosovo and the whole region is under threat," Dacic also said.

Calls For Swift Investigation

The head of the UN mission in Kosovo, Zahir Tanin, urged investigative authorities to "work swiftly and effectively" and assured them that "all the international agencies on the ground are ready to support the authorities in any manner which may assist the swift apprehension of those responsible."

The U.S. Ambassador to Pristina, Greg Delawie, also called on judicial bodies "to investigate this incident swiftly and professionally, and bring the perpetrators to justice."

Delawie urged "all sides to avoid dangerous rhetoric and remain calm at this sensitive time, and recommit themselves to continue the work toward the normalization of relations."

NATO urged "all parties to exercise restraint to defuse tensions and called for dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina to "continue as soon as possible."

"This is critical for regional peace and security," it added.

Russia's Foreign Ministry warned of the "risk of contagion in an atmosphere of terror and a resurgence of interethnic conflict in the region."

Ivanovic, considered a moderate opposition politician, was a controversial political figure in both Serbia and Kosovo.

Judges from the EULEX mission in Kosovo in January 2016 found Ivanovic guilty of committing war crimes against ethnic Albanians during Kosovo's 1998-99 war and sentenced him to nine years in prison.

But that verdict was annulled by the Appeals Court in Pristina in February 2017, and a retrial was under way at the time of Ivanovic's death.

Ivanovic's political career began in June 1999 during the final days of the Kosovo war when he was named as the head of the Serbian National Council of Kosovo and Metohija, a body set up in 1999 to represent ethnic Serbs in Kosovo.

Oliver Ivanovic casts his vote in local elections along with his son at a polling station in northern Mitrovica in October.
Oliver Ivanovic casts his vote in local elections along with his son at a polling station in northern Mitrovica in October.

More recently, he was the president of the SDP Civic Initiative that ran candidates in local elections in Kosovo in 2017.

Ivanovic served as a member of Serbia's government from 2008 to 2012, despite Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence, as Belgrade's state secretary of the Ministry for Kosovo and Metohija.

He also had been a leader in Kosovo of Serbia's Social Democratic Party until 2009 when he became president of the SDP Civic Initiative.

Before the 1998-99 war, Ivanovic was a manager at the Trepca mine complex in Mitrovica.

Belgrade continues to claim ownership of the Trepca mines, which once employed 23,000 people and accounted for 70 percent of Kosovo's gross domestic product.

But the de facto partition of Mitrovica between Serbs and ethnic Albanians has kept most of Trepca's facilities closed since 1999.

With reporting by B92, Reuters, Tanjug, AP, Balkan Insight, and AFP