An international court in northern Kosovo sentenced a local Serb politician to nine years in prison Thursday for war crimes against ethnic Albanians in 1999-2000.
Judges of the European Union’s justice mission in Kosovo found Oliver Ivanovic, 62, guilty of murder and torture of civilians during Kosovo's war for independence from Serbia.
The judges said that Ivanovic encouraged Serb paramilitaries to chase ethnic Albanians from the Serb-controlled part of the northern town of Mitrovica and was aware of their practice of separating men from women and children, torturing and killing many of them.
Ivanovic has denied the charges, saying that they were politically motivated. The court acquitted four other Kosovo Serbs charged together with him.
Serbian officials in Belgrade denounced Thursday's verdict and warned that it could incite ethnic tensions in the already volatile region.
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Rasim Ljajic said that “the mood in Kosovo will worsen,” adding that “those Serbs living in Kosovo will start thinking: ‘if Ivanovic, a pro-democracy advocate, deserved this, what will happen to us?’”
Director of the Serbian government's Office for Kosovo-Metohija (as Serbia calls its former province) Marko Djuric said that Serbia was shocked at the verdict, which he called politically motivated. Ivanovic has become a marionette in the hostile play of the puppet judiciary in Kosovo which does not function at all, he said.
Djuric, who is also a member of a Serbian delegation at EU-mediated reconciliation talks with Kosovo Albanians, said the verdict "has nothing to do with law and justice” and was intended to “humiliate the Serbs.” He said that it is time to reconsider the talks and see what to do next.
Ivanovic, considered a moderate Kosovo Serb politician, was arrested in January 2014. He was the first senior Kosovo Serb official detained by the European Union Rule of Law Mission, EULEX, on suspicion of having committed war crimes against Kosovo Albanians.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 in a move recognized by the United States and more than 110 other countries.
About 120,000 of Kosovo's 1.8 million inhabitants are ethnic Serbs.
VOA's Albanian and Serbian services contributed to this report.