Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj has said that the killing of a leading ethnic Serb political leader in the country’s north was the result of interference coming from outside the country.
Oliver Ivanovic was shot dead on Tuesday, 16 January, 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 government, which includes former commanders of ethnic Albanian guerrillas who rose up against Belgrade’s repressive rule in the late 1990s.
Haradinaj himself has been accused of war crimes and was arrested in France, in April 2017, but later released.
A Serbian court has charged Haradinaj with killings, torture and abductions of Serbs, ethnic Albanians and minority Roma people during and after the 1998-1999 war that led to Kosovo’s independence from Serbia, which Belgrade does not accept.
Haradinaj also rejected Serbia’s demand to take part in the investigation and said he might invite the FBI.
“The killing of Oliver Ivanovic challenges the law and any attempt to establish law and order throughout the entire territory of Kosovo,” he said, warning that the killing could be “misused” for political ends.
Haradinaj also 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.
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 in northern Mitrovica.
Police said they believe a burned-out Opel Astra car found later on another Mitrovica street was used by the perpetrators.
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.
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.
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.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry warned of the “risk of contagion in an atmosphere of terror and a resurgence of interethnic conflict in the region.”