Kosovo Serb leader shot dead in 'act of terrorism'

A Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic

To remind, on January 16, a new round of talks launched in Brussels on normalization of the relations between Belgrade and Pristina.

Oliver Ivanovic, leader of a Kosovo Serb party Freedom, Democracy, and Justice, and former Serbian state secretary for Kosovo and Metohija, was killed near his office in the city of Mitrovica earlier in the day.

Ivanovic was shot dead by gunmen firing from a auto as he arrived at the headquarters of his party in the flashpoint town of Mitrovica at about 8:15 am (0715 GMT), police said.

Last summer, Ivanovic said his vehicle was set on fire in north Mitrovica by unknown perpetrators due to "political reasons".

Ivanovic was one of the key politicians in Serb-dominated northern Kosovo, a former Serbian province where tensions still remain high a decade after it declared independence in 2008.

He became a leader of Serb troops as they fought Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) forces in 1998-99, a role that would later be at the center of a war crimes conviction - eventually overturned - for alleged atrocities against ethnic Albanians.

Serbia considers the murder to be a terrorist act and will treat it as such, Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic said during a news conference, a video file of which was posted on the website of news agency Tanjug.

Vucic called an emergency meeting of his national security council to discuss the killing, national broadcaster RTS reported. He was taken to a hospital but doctors were unable to save him.

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The moderate politician, who had publicly spoken out against Belgrade's policies in Kosovo, was hit by five bullets and died on the spot, his lawyer Nebojsa Vlajic told AFP.

His death had immediate repercussions, as political talks between Kosovo Albanians and the Serbian government in Brussels were interrupted.

The Kosovo government issued a statement condemning the killing, which it said "challenges the rule of law and any attempt to establish order throughout the entire territory of Kosovo".

Ivanovic came to prominence shortly after the war as one of the Mitrovica "bridge-watchers", Serbs who sought to prevent "infiltration" by Albanians over the Ibar River bridge into the northern half of the town.

"Serbs are more afraid of Serbs than Albanians", Ivanovic said at the time.

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

Some 40,000-50,000 ethnic Serbs live in northern Kosovo, resisting integration with the rest of the mainly ethnic Albanian country.

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