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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bosnian'Iron Lady' Confesses to Crimes

THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Former Bosnian Serb "Iron Lady" Biljana Plavsic dramatically confessed Monday to crimes against humanity at the start of a landmark hearing set to hear evidence from former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Plavsic, 72, avoided trial after changing her plea in October to guilty on one charge of persecution in a move her lawyers said showed "her remorse fully and unconditionally." Other charges, including genocide, were dropped.

The session that opened Monday is to determine sentence for the former Bosnian Serb president, the highest-ranking figure to admit atrocities at The Hague war crimes tribunal.

In a document setting out the agreed facts underpinning her guilty plea, Plavsic acknowledged she covered up crimes, ignored widespread allegations of criminal acts and "publicly rationalized 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, expulsions and cruelty inflicted by Bosnian Serbs on non-Serbs in 1992.

Once dubbed the "Iron Lady" for her steely leadership of Bosnia's Serbs in the Balkan country's 1992-5 ethnic war, Plavsic was deputy to Radovan Karadzic, one of the tribunal's most wanted men. She later took over from him as president.

"It is of enormous significance that Mrs. Plavsic accepts before this chamber that horrendous crimes were committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and that she acknowledges her own individual criminal responsibility for them," said United Nations Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte.

"Many of those who survived will bear the scars for the rest of their lives," Del Ponte told the Yugoslavia tribunal. "There is nothing in the nature of a plea of guilty which in any way alters the seriousness of the crimes themselves."

But the only woman publicly indicted by the UN tribunal said she did not participate with former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in planning the ethnic cleansing and played a lesser role than Karadzic in its execution.

Albright, Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, former UN Balkans envoy Carl Bildt and Bosnian war survivors will testify at the hearing.

The silver-haired Plavsic, clad in a green and red plaid suit, looked relaxed as she chatted with Del Ponte before the session began. The former science professor had been on provisional release for months before returning to The Hague. Plavsic initially pleaded innocent to multiple counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes after surrendering to the UN court in January 2001.

The first witness was Mirsad Tokaca, an investigator into Bosnian war crimes. "There were few municipalities in which the brutality and scope of expulsions was an exception and not the rule," Tokaca told the three-judge bench.

He detailed the pattern of ethnic cleansing: Bosnian Serb forces would make lightning assaults on villages before entering to kill and expel non-Serbs. Many who were not driven out fled in fear. Others, paralyzed with disbelief, were murdered.

In an interview with a Belgrade daily published Sunday, Plavsic said she cut no deals to change her plea and would not testify at the trial of Milosevic, which began at The Hague in February.

"I have made no deal about the length of my sentence, nor did I want any such thing. My only condition was not to testify at other trials, and frankly speaking, I would not have anything to say at the trial against Milosevic," she told Politika.

Even if she had cut a deal to reduce her sentence, it would not have meant much, she said. "What do 10 years of prison mean to me? For me it is tantamount to a life sentence," she said.