Kosovska Mitrovica (Kosovo) (AFP) – Prominent Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic was shot dead in a brazen drive-by shooting on Tuesday that risked fanning ethnic tensions in the volatile region.
The killers struck on the very day that Belgrade and Pristina resumed EU-moderated talks on normalising ties after a hiatus of more than a year.
Both Serbian and Kosovo Albanian officials refrained from explicitly accusing each other of being behind the killing as the international community urged the two sides to remain calm.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic described the murder as a “terrorist act” against “Serbia as a whole”.
Social democrat Ivanovic, 64, a father of four, was facing a retrial on war crimes charges over the 1990s Kosovo conflict.
But he was seen as a moderate politician and as 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.
A former Serbian state secretary for Kosovo, he was a key interlocutor with NATO, the United Nations and later the European Union after the war.
– Drive-by shooting –
Ivanovic was shot dead by gunmen firing from a car as he arrived at the headquarters of his party in the flashpoint town of Mitrovica at about 8:15 am (0715 GMT), police said.
He was hit by five bullets and died on the spot, his lawyer Nebojsa Vlajic told AFP.
Public prosecutor Shyqri Syla told AFP it was not immediately clear who was behind the attack.
Police said they found a burnt-out car that was presumably used in the shooting.
Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and the government in Pristina “strongly” condemned the assassination, as did US and UN representatives in Kosovo.
Russia warned of the “risk of contagion in an atmosphere of terror and a resurgence of interethnic conflict in the region”, in a statement from the foreign ministry.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini spoke with Thaci and…