Plavsic's actions compared to Nazi Holocaust

 

THE NETHERLANDS: Former Bosnian Serb president Biljana Plavsic sat in the war crimes dock yesterday and heard Nobel prize-winning Auschwitz survivor Mr Elie Wiesel compare her actions with the Nazi Holocaust.

Plavsic (72), dubbed the Iron Lady for her role in the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia, is making history this week as the highest-ranking Balkan leader ever to admit to war crimes.

The first day of her sentencing hearing, where she could face life imprisonment, was dominated by the words, via video link, from Mr Wiesel.

One of a clutch of high-profile witnesses due to appear this week, he told her that despite her crimes, she could still perform a service to humanity by endorsing the court.

"The civilised world is relying on you, and upon your conscience," he told her. "Your sentence will reverberate across national and ethnic borders."

Throughout yesterday's hearing, Plavsic, wearing a red and green suit, sat impassively listening to Mr Wiesel's address.

Today the court is expected to host former US secretary of state Ms Madeleine Albight, who will appear, incongruously, to defend Plavsic for her part in turning her back on the politics of racism.

Plavsic spent the war as deputy to Bosnian Serb leader Dr Radovan Karadzic, who remains on the run charged with genocide.

She helped orchestrate the campaign of Serb ethnic cleansing which saw more than 100,000 Croats and Muslims killed and two million made homeless.

During the Bosnian war, the former biology professor earned her Iron Lady nickname by being the most rabid of the Serb leaders.

Borrowing terms from her biology text books, she told the Serbs that they were racially superior to the Muslims, and eradication was a natural process.

After the Bosnian war, she did a U-turn, breaking with the other Bosnian Serb leaders and, backed by the West, winning election again as Bosnian Serb president.

Two months ago, she decided to plead guilty to one count of crimes against humanity in a deal in which prosecutors dropped a further seven charges, including one for complicity in genocide.

As the highest-ranking defendant ever to be jailed, she marks a new level of success for the court, which is battling critics, including Washington, which wants it to curtail its activities.

Just as important is her acknowledgement that such crimes took place - many of the Serb population in the Balkans still refuse to believe the horrific details of ethnic cleansing.

In a document setting out facts underpinning her guilty plea, Plavsic acknowledged she covered up crimes, ignored widespread allegations of criminal acts and "publicly rationalised and justified the ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs".

"Mrs Plavsic embraced and supported the objective of ethnic separation by force and contributed to achieving it," said the document admitting her role in killings.