News 12 Aug 15

Belgrade Urges Hunger-Striking Kosovo Serb Leader’s Release

The Serbian government called on the EU to intervene after Kosovo Serb political party leader Oliver Ivanovic, who is on trial for war crimes, was remanded in custody again.

Ivana Nikolic
BIRN
Belgrade
Ivanovic in court. Photo: BETA.

Marko Djuric, the director of the Serbian government’s office for Kosovo, wrote to the EU’s rule-of-law mission EULEX and the UN mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, on Tuesday asking them to take action to secure Ivanovic’s release pending the verdict in his trial.

“We beg you to urgently take measures within your jurisdiction and use all formal and informal means that are available to you so that the basic human rights and freedoms of detainees are met and the deterioration of Ivanovic’s health is prevented, but also to avoid political and social destabilisation in Kosovo,” Djuric said.

Ivanovic, who is standing a trial for war crimes and ordering the killings of Kosovo Albanians, went on hunger strike on Friday after EULEX decided to extend his custody until October 6. One of his party officials said he had already lost weight and his health had deteriorated.

Ivanovic’s son read out a letter from his father at a meeting of support in the Serbian town of Novi Sad on Tuesday evening, in which he vowed to continue his struggle for freedom for himself and on behalf of other Kosovo Serbs.

Ivanovic, the leader of the Freedom, Democracy, Justice party, said in the letter that he is now “not only fighting for my freedom, but for legal safety of all the people who stayed in order to live here [in Kosovo]”.

“No single citizen should be subjected to injustice and deprivation of liberty or violation of human rights only because it is politically necessary to someone,” he said.

Serbian ombudsman Sasa Jankovic also wrote a letter to the head of EULEX Gabrielle Meucci on Tuesday, saying he was “concerned over the duration of the detention of Oliver Ivanovic”.

The custody extension triggered protests this week in Pristina and in front of the Basic Court in the town of Mitrovica, where he is on trial.

But EULEX spokesperson Dragana Nikolic Solomon told media that there are still dozens of witnesses remaining to be questioned at Ivanovic’s trial.

Ivanovic was arrested in January 2014 and has been in custody ever since.

He is accused of ordering the murder of ethnic Albanians in Mitrovica on April 14, 1999 during the NATO bombing, when he was allegedly the leader of a paramilitary police unit.

He is also accused of inciting the killing of ethnic Albanians during unrest that erupted after the war on February 3, 2000, when many Albanians were driven from their homes.

Four other defendants, Dragoljub Delibasic, Aleksandar Lazovic, and father and son Ilija and Nebojsa Vujacic, also face charges of murder or attempted murder.

All of them have pleaded not guilty.

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