German Minister Condemns Rampant Crime in North Kosovo

The dominance of organized crime in Serb-dominated Northern Kosovo must be tackled, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Thursday on a visit to Mitrovica, where a Kosovo Serb politician was shot dead in January.
 German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel in Mitrovica. Photo: BIRN

During a visit to the divided town of Mitrovica in northern Kosovo, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said the problem with organized crime had to be tackled before any other open issues concerning the region are put on the table.

“Here we have a situation where the public administration is nonfunctional, and … organized crime holds the levers of power. They do not hesitate to kill people, and the international community cannot tolerate this anymore,” he said.

Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivavonic was assassinated in Mitrovica in in January. The investigation into his death is ongoing.

After the war in Kosovo ended in 1999, the Serb-dominated northernmost part of Kosovo long remained in a legal vacuum, with no functional judiciary and policing system.

This has somewhat changed since the Brussels agreement of 2013, but criminal activities and armed attacks on citizens and police officers that have remained unsolved remain numerous.

Most recently on January 16, the president of the civil initiative Sloboda, Demokratija, Pravda [Freedom, Democracy, Justice] Oliver Ivanovic, was shot dead in Mitrovica.

Ivanovic had angered powerful forces in northern Kosovo by opposing the Belgrade-backed party that dominates Kosoov Serb politics.

“People here are afraid as murders have happened recently, and to change this, we need support of Belgrade,” Gabriel said after meeting representatives of the civil sector and media in the Diakonie youth centre, in the southern part of Mitrovica, near the bridge over the Ibar River. The bridge divides the town into Albanian and Serbian sectors.

The German minister also spoke of the need to solve the border dispute between Kosovo and Montenegro, which Kosovo MPs are holding up, objecting to the current agreement.

Gabriel also backed the formation of the controversial Special Court chamber to deal with war crimes committed in the war in 1999, and finding a lasting solution for relations between Kosovo and Serbia.