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COURTSIDE: Krajisnik & Plavsic Case

Ex-Bosnian Serb president admits responsibility for war crimes.
By Chris Stephen

Biljana Plavsic, former president of Republika Srpska, made history last week by becoming the first Bosnian leader to plead guilty before the tribunal.

Plavsic, once dubbed "the iron lady" for her ruthless leadership, admitted responsibility for the persecution of non-Serbs in Bosnia on religious, racial and political grounds during the 1992-95 conflict. Her campaign resulted in the enforced flight of tens of thousands of Bosniaks (Muslims) and Croats.

Defence counsel Eugene O'Sullivan read a statement from his client, in which she expressed remorse and stated that she "hopes to offer consolation to all innocent victims of the Bosnian war".

The chief prosecutor's spokesperson Florence Hartmann described Plavsic's decision to plead guilty to crimes against humanity as "an important step in the process of reconciliation. For the first time a high-ranking Bosnian Serb leader admits that something wrong happened, expresses remorse and reaches out to victims".

Plavsic surrendered to the tribunal on January 2001 after being charged with genocide, violations of laws and customs of war and crimes against humanity. She pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

Her decision last week to change her plea on the third charge prompted prosecutor Mark Harmon to announce that he will ask for the others to be dropped.

O'Sullivan stressed that the plea had not involved an agreement with the prosecution, and that Plavsic knows she may receive a life sentence. Her change of plea via video-link was so quiet Judge Richard May asked her to repeat it.

She is presumed to have spoken from Belgrade, where she was allowed to prepare her defence following her provisional release on September 6, 2001.

Her co-defendant Momcilo Krajisnik - former president of the Bosnian Serb assembly and allegedly a key power-broker during the Bosnian war - remains charged with the same counts and will stay in the Scheveningen detention unit until the start of trial, which is expected in the next four months.

Plavsic denied speculation that she may volunteer testimony against Krajisnik or Slobodan Milosevic.

Plavsic's is the eighth guilty plea before the tribunal since its first case in 1996.

Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor. Chris Stephen is IWPR's Hague correspondent and project manager

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