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article imageKosovo probes Serb politician's shock killing

By Tanja Vujisic with Ismet Hajdari in Pristina (AFP)     Jan 17, 2018 in World

Investigators Wednesday were probing the killing of a prominent Kosovo Serb politician, which observers warned could worsen tensions in the volatile region.

Oliver Ivanovic, 64, was shot dead from a car Tuesday morning as he arrived at the headquarters of his party in the flashpoint town of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo.

"We are all in shock," said the vice-president of Ivanovic's party, Ksenija Bozovic.

The ethnically-divided town's 85,000 residents still live in a tense atmosphere nearly two decades since a war between Serbian forces and pro-independence Kosovo Albanian guerrillas that was ended by a NATO air campaign.

Ivanovic was shot six times with a Zastava pistol, manufactured in the former Yugoslavia, the results of an autopsy revealed.

- Thousands follow coffin -

Thousands of people accompanied Ivanovic's coffin in Mitrovica on Wednesday
Thousands of people accompanied Ivanovic's coffin in Mitrovica on Wednesday
SASA DJORDJEVIC, AFP

Thousands of Mitrovica Serbs accompanied Ivanovic's coffin from his Citizens' Initiative party headquarters as it headed out of the town to be buried on Thursday in Belgrade.

"Oliver never wanted to leave, to abandon his Mitrovica and his Kosovo... But the day has come to say farewell to such a man, in a coffin," Bozovic said.

Meanwhile, police boosted security measures in Mitrovica's "sensitive areas."

- War crimes charge -

Oliver Ivanovic  pictured here in his office in north Mitrovica on May 5  2017  was seen as a modera...
Oliver Ivanovic, pictured here in his office in north Mitrovica on May 5, 2017, was seen as a moderate Kosovo Serb politician
Armend NIMANI, AFP/File

Ivanovic was facing a retrial on war crimes charges over the 1990s Kosovo conflict but was perceived as a moderate politician, favouring dialogue with Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians.

He had publicly spoken out against Belgrade's policies in Kosovo, which Serbia still claims as a province despite its independence declaration in 2008.

It "would have been good if the thousands of people who are bidding farewell to Oliver today had voted for him," said Ivanovic's lawyer Nebojsa Vlajic.

"Then he would have been the mayor" of northern Mitrovica, controlled by ethnic Serbs, Vlajic said.

- Political murder? -

Kosovo police secure the area where leading Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic was shot dead
Kosovo police secure the area where leading Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic was shot dead
Armend NIMANI, AFP

As Kosovo Serb and Kosovo Albanian prosecutors investigated, officials were giving few clues on who might have killed him.

"Serb or Kosovo Albanian killers? Terrorist act or political murder?" read the front-page headline of the independent Serbian Danas daily.

Police said Wednesday they have questioned the witnesses and opened a special telephone line for confidential information.

They were also reviewing video surveillance footage and investigating the movements of an Opel Astra car, thought to have been used by the killers, that was found burnt near the scene of the crime.

Koha Ditore, Kosovo's leading Albanian-language daily, warned that the killing "worsens the situation in Kosovo's north."

The paper also warned against a "destabilisation of the country."

- Talks interrupted -

Police guarded the crime scene as Ivanovic's killing raised tensions in Mitrovica  a divided Ko...
Police guarded the crime scene as Ivanovic's killing raised tensions in Mitrovica, a divided Kosovo town with an Albanian majority and Serb minority
Armend NIMANI, AFP/File

Sasa, a 41-year-old Mitrovica Serb who refused to give his family name, said that "nothing will be the same" after the killing.

"We have no more normal, civilised politicians," he added.

Ivanovic was elected in October as a deputy on northern Mitrovica's Serb-dominated municipal council, running against a Belgrade-backed party.

His killers struck on the very day that Serbia and Kosovo resumed European Union-moderated talks on normalising ties after a hiatus of more than a year.

The Serbs walked out the meeting after news of the killing.

Kosovo negotiator Avni Arifi called them to return to the talks.

Late on Wednesday Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic spoke to his Kosovo counterpart Hashim Thaci by telephone, his office said in a statement.

The two "agreed that the dialogue of Serbs and Albanians and the mutual work on calming and stabilising the situation in Kosovo is of key importance for both sides," the statement said.

Kosovo's government approved a visit by Vucic, a political opponent of Ivanovic, to northern Kosovo next weekend.

The 1998-99 war between Serbian security forces and Kosovo Albanian guerrillas claimed 13,000 lives, mostly ethnic Albanians.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in February 2008.

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