BELGRADE: Mourners were gathering in Belgrade on January 18 for the funeral of Oliver Ivanovic, an ethnic Serb political leader in northern Kosovo who was shot dead earlier this week in front of his Mitrovica office.
The funeral was scheduled at a Serbian Orthodox church in Belgrade’s Novo Groblje cemetery complex, where the coffin containing Ivanovic’s body was delivered on January 17.
Ivanovic’s brother, Miroslav Ivanovic, said the family accepted a proposal to bury him in Belgrade after Serbia’s government offered for him to be 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 Kosovo’s northern city of Mitrovica to the home of relatives in Belgrade.
Thousands of people lined the streets of the ethnically divided city of Mitrovica on January 17 to pay their respects 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.
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 underway when he was killed.