news 30 Jan 14

Arrested Kosovo Serb Leader Runs for Mayor

Oliver Ivanovic, now in detention on suspicion of involvement in war crimes against Kosovo Albanians, has entered the race to run for mayor of the Serb-run north of Mitrovica.

Oliver Ivanovic.

Prominent Kosovo Serb politician Ivanovic has applied to run for mayor in the forthcoming repeat mayoral vote in North Mitrovica due on February 23 despite being in custody, as Belgrade appealed to the EU to secure his release and local Serbs protested in the streets.

Ivanovic was arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of involvement in war crimes against ethnic Albanians, and in murders committed after the 1990s conflict.

He was detained “as an alleged suspect in an ongoing war crimes investigation”, according to the EU rule-of-law mission in Kosovo, and is also suspected of involvement in violence in 2000 in which ten Kosovo Albanians were killed and many more wounded and driven from their homes.

Ivanovic at the time was a leading "Bridge Watcher", one of the hardline Serbs who patrolled the main bridge in Mitrovica dividing the town into Serbian and Albanian sectors.

His lawyer described the allegations as "ridiculous, invented, and nonsensical".

Serbia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Thursday that he had sent a letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, asking her to intervene to secure Ivanovic’s release.

“We seek a clear explanation, because we have a couple of questions that are difficult to find answers to, such as why Oliver Ivanovic was charged with something that happened 13 years ago, and how come he - if he had committed the crime - moved freely throughout Kosovo, talked to everyone… and then suddenly on the eve of [repeat local] elections he is arrested,” Vucic told media in Belgrade.

“We think it’s important for peace and stability but also for the sake of trust that he be released,” he added.

Serbs in North Mitrovica also protested on Thursday for Ivanovic’s release, waving Serbian flags and carrying placards with slogans like “Freedom now” and “Oliver is innocent”.

Kosovo Election Commission member Nenad Rikalo has confirmed that "Ivanovic's current situation [under arrest] was not on the list of conditions that would prevent a person from being nominated" to run for mayor.

According to Rikalo, three more candidates will run for the post in the north of the town - one Serb and two Albanians.

The Citizens Initiative Srpska, backed by Belgrade, has nominated Goran Rakic. The Democratic Party of Kosovo's candidate is Florent Azemi, while Musa Miftari will run for the Democratic League of Kosovo.

Andrijana Hodzic, who ran as independent candidate in November poll, decided not to join the race, telling the Serbian news agency Tanjug that "society has not reached the level of democracy in which a mayor can be someone other than a Serb or an Albanian".

The elections in North Mitrovica will be repeated on February 23 because Krstimir Pantic, who won the elections last November, refused to take office.

Pantic objected to signing an oath of office on a document "that had the markings of Kosovo's statehood" and so pulled out. Many Kosovo Serbs strongly object to anything that suggests public recognition of Kosovo's independence from Serbia. Ivanovic lost to Pantic in the November elections, by 44.8 to 55.2 per cent.

Adding to tensions in the divided town, Dimitrije Janicijevic, a member of the municipal assembly, was shot dead by an unknown attacker in front of his home on January 16.

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