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Ex-Bosnian Serb Leader Pleads Guilty at Tribunal

October 03, 2002|From Associated Press

THE HAGUE — Abruptly reversing course at a U.N. tribunal Wednesday, a top Bosnian Serb wartime politician pleaded guilty to persecuting non-Serbs in the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

In exchange, prosecutors dropped genocide and all other war crimes charges against Biljana Plavsic, the only female suspect at the court and the first Serb leader to admit responsibility for atrocities.

Plavsic, one of the highest-ranking officials to come before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, pleaded guilty to persecution on political, religious and racial grounds--a crime against humanity that is punishable by up to life imprisonment.

Speaking to the court by video link, the 72-year-old Plavsic looked somber and pale.

"I plead guilty," she answered when asked to respond to the charge.

The U.N. judges then ruled that Plavsic could remain outside the tribunal's custody until sentencing in December.

Plavsic surrendered in January 2001 but was released after nearly eight months in detention at The Hague and flew back to Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia, to wait out her trial. She initially pleaded not guilty to the eight counts of war crimes for her alleged role in widespread expulsions and executions of non-Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Plavsic's lawyer, Eugene O'Sullivan, said that by "expressing her remorse fully and unconditionally, Mrs. Plavsic hopes to offer some consolation to the innocent victims--Muslim, Croat and Serb," and invites other leaders to "examine their own conduct."

Plavsic has in effect admitted planning and carrying out a Bosnian Serb campaign to wipe out Bosnian Muslims and Croats from dozens of municipalities.

O'Sullivan denied that Plavsic, as part of a plea bargain with prosecutors, had agreed to testify in the genocide trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

Tribunal watchers have named Plavsic as a potentially important witness in Milosevic's case. During the Bosnian war, she was a close associate of former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic and is believed to have inside information about Milosevic's regime.

After the war, Plavsic succeeded Karadzic--Bosnia's top war crimes fugitive--as the president of the Serb half of Bosnia, known as Republika Srpska.

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