Leading Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic was killed on Tuesday in a drive-by shooting as he arrived at his party headquarters, his lawyer and a party official said.
The killing occurred on the very day that Belgrade and Pristina had started talks on normalising ties after a break of more than a year.
“I am informed that he was shot dead on the spot and efforts to revive him at Mitrovica hospital were unsuccessful,” lawyer Nebojsa Vlajic told AFP.
He said Ivanovic, who was set to face a retrial on charges of war crimes over the Kosovo conflict after an earlier conviction was thrown out, had been hit by five bullets.
Ivanovic, 64, of the Social Democratic Party, was considered a moderate politician in the ethnically divided flashpoint town of Mitrovica.
A former Serbian state secretary for Kosovo, Ivanovic was a key interlocutor with NATO, the United Nations and later the European Union after the 1990s war and was seen as backing dialogue with Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic swiftly called an emergency meeting of the Council for national security after the shooting, national broadcaster RTS reported.
In Brussels, a delegation from Belgrade walked out of the talks with Kosovo Albanians that had resumed earlier Tuesday after more than a year’s hiatus, according to local media in Belgrade.
Under the pressure from the international community and European Union auspices, Kosovo and Serbia have been trying to normalise ties almost 20 years since the start of a bloody war that claimed 13,000 lives, mostly ethnic Albanians.
The 1998-99 war between Serbian security forces and Kosovo Albanian guerrillas was ended by a NATO air campaign.
Predominantly ethnic Albanian Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in February 2008.
Belgrade still refuses to recognise the move by its former southern province.