- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 27, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Feb. 27 (UPI) — A U.N. criminal court in The Hague Thursday sentenced former Bosnian-Serb President Biljana Plavsic to 11 years imprisonment for committing crimes against humanity.

Sentencing judge Richard May told the U.N. tribunal that Plavsic participated in "a crime of the utmost gravity, involving a campaign of ethnic separation which resulted in the deaths of thousands and the expulsion of thousands more in circumstances of great brutality."

Plavsic, dubbed the "Iron Lady" of the Balkans, was President of Bosnia-Herzegovina from November 1990 to December 1992 and was a prominent leader of the breakaway Serb part of the country throughout the civil war.

May said that during her time in power, the former biology professor "planned, instigated, ordered and abetted persecutions of the Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat and other non-Serb populations" and "disregarded widespread reports of ethnic cleansing."

Around 200,000 Bosnians were killed between 1992-95 in Europe's most-bloody conflict since the World War II.

Plavsic, once a hard-line Serb nationalist and enthusiastic supporter of ethnic cleansing, handed herself in to The Hague tribunal in 2001 and last year issued an extraordinary mea culpa in which she apologized to "all the innocent victims of the Bosnian war."

May said the former president's voluntary surrender, admission of guilt and advanced age — she is 72 — were "substantial mitigating circumstances."

The British judge also hailed the "considerable contribution to peace" made by Plavsic in the mid-1990s and said the her plea "should promote reconciliation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region as a whole."

However, May rejected the defense's argument that any sentence more than 8 years would effectively mean life imprisonment for the woman who was once photographed stepping over the body of a dead Muslim to kiss Serb warlord Arkan.

Summing up, the judge told a stony-faced Plavsic: "No sentence which the Trial Chamber passes can fully reflect the horror of what occurred or the terrible impact on thousands of victims."

Plavsic is the highest-ranking figure to be sentenced by the Netherlands-based court since it was set up a decade ago to try suspected war criminals from the former Yugoslavia.

On Wednesday, nationalist Serb politician Vojislav Seselj appeared before the tribunal for the first time since surrendering to the court Monday. The former deputy leader of Serbia refused to plead to the eight charges of crimes against humanity made against him.

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