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Serb Pleads Guilty to War Crimes

October 2, 2002

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ Bosnian Serb wartime leader Biljana Plavsic, one of the highest-ranking suspects at the U.N. war crimes tribunal, pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of crimes against humanity.

Plavsic, 72, has been named as a possible witness against other leading suspects, such as former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, now on trial for genocide and war crimes in the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

Speaking by video-link from a tribunal office in Yugoslavia, Plavsic said: ``I plead guilty″ to the crime of persecution.

After Plavsic changed her plea, prosecutors dropped all other charges against her.

Plavsic, who surrendered to the U.N. tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in January 2001 and was released on her own recognizance, had pleaded innocent to eight counts of war crimes, including genocide, relating to her alleged role in Bosnia’s 3 1/2-year war.

The panel of three U.N. judges ruled that Plavsic could remain free until she is summoned for sentencing.

``Mrs. Plavsic, we are taking a wholly exceptional course in your case and for reasons of security we shall continue your provisional release,″ said presiding judge Richard May. But that decision, he cautioned, should not be seen as ``any indication as to the sentence to be passed.″

Plavsic, the only woman indicted by the court, was vice president of the Bosnian Serbs’ self-declared republic during the war, led by her ally Radovan Karadzic. Plavsic joined Karadzic in rejecting a multiethnic independent Bosnia, fueling the Bosnian conflict.

She has denied allegations that she ordered the execution of thousands of Muslims and Croats in an ``ethnic cleansing″ campaign during the 1992-1995 war. During the war, Plavsic allegedly backed Serb purges of other ethnic groups and was seen visiting troops at the front lines.

After the war, she succeeded Karadzic as the president of the Bosnian Serb half of Bosnia, known as Republika Srpska.

But Plavsic later broke with Karadzic, believing that cooperation with the United States and its allies was the best way to guarantee a future for the Bosnian Serbs. Karadzic has been indicted on the same charges but remains at large.

Plavsic was released in September 2001 after nine months of detention at the U.N. facility outside The Hague after Yugoslavia guaranteed she would return for trial.

Some 200,000 people were killed during the Bosnian war. A peace agreement divided the country into the Muslim-Croat federation and the Bosnian Serb republic, each with its own governments but linked on the federal level.

Since the tribunal started operating in 1994, only two other indictees, both Bosnian Serbs, pleaded guilty.

Goran Jelisic, known as the ``Serb Adolf,″ was sentenced in 1998 to 40 years imprisonment after he pleaded guilty to 31 counts of war crimes, but ``not guilty″ to genocide. Another Bosnian Serb, Drazen Erdemovic, also pleaded guilty and was sentenced in 1996 to 10 years in jail.

The U.N. court has publicly indicted 77 Serb, Croat and Muslim suspects, 55 of whom are in proceedings. Another 22, including Karadzic and his wartime military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic, remain at large.

Momcilo Krajisnik, another Bosnian Serb wartime leader and a co-defendant in Plavsic’s case, remains in custody.

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