BELGRADE -- Hundreds of mourners including Serbia's prime minister crowded a cemetery for the funeral of Kosovar Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic, who was buried in Belgrade two days after he was gunned down in northern Kosovo.
Ivanovic, whose killing stirred tension and sent shock waves through both countries, was laid to rest on January 18 at the Novo Groblje (New Cemetery) complex, where his casket had been brought under police escort a day earlier.
Prime Minister Ana Brnabic led the Serbian government delegation at the funeral, which was conducted by the Serbian Orthodox Church.
President Aleksandar Vucic stayed away, saying he will pay his respects over the weekend at the spot where Ivanovic was killed -- outside his office in the ethnically divided town of Mitrovica. Vucic has called the killing of Ivanovic, who was seen as a moderate in Serb politics in Kosovo but whose Citizens’ Initiative Party was not backed by the Serbian government in Belgrade, as a "terrorist act."
Ivanovic's brother, Miroslav, said the family accepted a proposal to bury him in Belgrade after Serbia's government offered to have him interred at Novo Groblje’s Alley of Meritorious Citizens, where some of the most important people in Serbian history are buried.
The slain politician’s brother also said that his family has decided to move from Mitrovica to the home of relatives in Belgrade.
On January 17, thousands of people lined the streets of Mitrovica to pay their respect to Ivanovic as his coffin was taken away to Belgrade.
Saddened admirers also lit candles outside the headquarters of Ivanovic’s SDP Civic Initiative party in Mitrovica, where he was shot dead by unknown attackers on January 16.
In Belgrade, mourners also have been lighting candles in Ivanovic’s memory at the Church of St. Sava, one of the largest Orthodox Christian cathedrals in the world.
An autopsy revealed that Ivanovic was shot six times in the torso with a Zastava pistol that was manufactured in the former Yugoslavia.
Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj has suggested Ivanovic’s assassination was a result of interference from outside the country.
The assassination has raised tensions in the Balkans and prompted the suspension of EU-facilitated talks in Brussels between Kosovo and Serbia.
However, the spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on January 18 that Vucic and his Kosovar counterpart, President Hashim Thaci, had agreed to resume the talks, according to the dpa news agency.
"Presidents Vucic and Thaci spoke over the phone yesterday afternoon ... and first of all agreed to continue the EU-facilitated dialogue," Maja Kocijancic said, adding that they also discussed Ivanovic's killing.
It is important that his killing is "investigated and that the perpetrators are brought to justice without delay," Kocijancic also said.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg condemned the killing of Ivanovic and called for calm in Kosovo.
Speaking to reporters while on a visit to Macedonia on January 18, he said the Western military alliance would continue to be on hand to help keep the country stable.
Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, declared independence in 2008 – nearly a decade after the 1998-99 Kosovo war. More than 110 countries recognize its independence. Serbia does not.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic has announced that he will visit Kosovo over the weekend amid fears of renewed tensions there between ethnic Albanians and ethnic Serbs.
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.
More recently, Ivanovic was the president of the SDP Civic Initiative party that ran ethnic Serb candidates in local elections in Kosovo during 2017.
He served as a member of Serbia’s government from 2008-12, 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.
Judges from the European Union's Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) in Kosovo convicted Ivanovic of war crimes committed against ethnic Albanians during the 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. A retrial was under way when he was killed.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, B-92, Telegraf, and TASS