PRISTINA (Reuters) - An ethnic Serb politician in the flashpoint Kosovo town of Mitrovica was shot dead overnight in what officials said was part of a backlash by hardliners against an EU-brokered accord to end the country’s ethnic partition.
Dimitrije Janicijevic, 35, was gunned down outside his apartment shortly after midnight, police said on Thursday. He was a member of the local Liberal Party, an ethnic Serb party that is part of Kosovo’s Albanian-dominated coalition government.
Janicijevic ran for mayor of Mitrovica late last year in the first municipal elections in Kosovo’s mainly Serb north to be held under Kosovo law, part of a push by the European Union to integrate the north six years since Kosovo declared independence from Serbia.
Serb hardliners in the north reject any compromise with the Kosovo state and tensions have been rising in Mitrovica since the EU brokered an accord in April 2013 between Serbia and Kosovo, by which Belgrade agreed to cede its de facto control over the north in exchange for the start of EU accession talks next week.
Kosovo President Atifete Jahjaga, in a statement, said the killing was “an attempt to stop the work of the Kosovo institutions in giving citizens rule of law, normalising and stabilising every corner of the country’s territory.”
The EU’s envoy to Kosovo, Samuel Zbogar, said he had met Janicijevic when he was sworn in as a member of the Mitrovica municipal assembly at the weekend. He called for a full investigation.
“Let me underline once again that any use of violence to stop political change or confront a complex social situation is unacceptable,” Zbogar said in a statement.
Serbia lost control over its southern province in 1999, when NATO bombed for 11 weeks to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians by Serbian forces fighting a two-year counter-insurgency war.
Janicijevic lost the Mitrovica mayoral race to Belgrade-backed candidate Krstimir Pantic. But Pantic refused to take the oath of office in a row over the use of Kosovo state symbols, and the election will be re-run.
Additional reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Hugh Lawson