BELGRADE (Serbia), Oct 27: Former Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic, sentenced in 2003 by a UN war crimes tribunal to 11 years in prison, returned to her home in Belgrade after an early release from a Swedish jail.
Plavsic flew in from Stockholm on a Bosnian Serb government plane. She was whisked away in a car that drove her straight from the tarmac to her downtown Belgrade apartment.
“I’m happy to be here ... but, after nine years in prison, I don’t know what will happen,” Plavsic said briefly as she entered her apartment building. The 79-year-old said she needed time to rest.
The head of Sweden’s prison service, Lars Nylen, said Plavsic was set free on Tuesday morning after serving two-thirds of her sentence. The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, last month authorised her early release.
Plavsic was sentenced in February 2003 after pleading guilty to a single count of persecution -- a crime against humanity -- as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign to drive Muslims and Croats out of Serb-controlled areas of Bosnia. Her guilty plea was part of a plea bargain to have other charges, including genocide, dropped.
Plavsic, revered during the war by Bosnian Serb nationalists as their “Iron Lady” and “the Serbian Queen,” was one of the few suspects to admit their crimes at the tribunal. In an emotional speech at a sentencing hearing, she told judges that the Bosnian Serb leadership, “of which I was a necessary part, led an effort which victimized countless innocent people.”
She added that, “The knowledge that I am responsible for such human suffering and for soiling the character of my people will always be with me.”
Her confession shocked nationalists, turning her from a hero to a traitor to their wartime cause of creating a “Greater Serbia.”
The war campaign destroyed 850 Muslim and Croat villages and included 1,100 documented murders, prosecutors said. A campaign of destruction of sacred sites laid waste to more than 100 mosques and seven Catholic churches.
Tribunal President Patrick Robinson said last month in announcing the decision to free Plavsic that she should be released “notwithstanding the gravity of her crimes.”
Plavsic, who surrendered voluntarily to the tribunal in January 2001, was transferred to Sweden after the sentencing in 2003. While in a women’s prison there, she has kept herself busy by walking and baking, Robinson said in a statement.
After her plea deal, Plavsic testified once for prosecutors, against former Bosnian Serb political ally Momcilo Krajisnik, who was convicted of atrocities and sentenced to 20 years. She served as a Bosnian Serb president from 1996 to 1998 when she turned against her wartime political mentor Radovan Karadzic, accusing the former leader of crime and corruption during his reign.—AP