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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 February, 2003, 16:12 GMT
Biljana Plavsic: Serbian iron lady
Biljana Plavsic, surrounded by bodyguards, leaves French embassy in Sarajevo
Mrs Plavsic was virulently anti-Muslim
Biljana Plavsic, the former Bosnian president, was renowned throughout the 1990s as an uncompromising apologist of ethnic cleansing.

The self-styled "Serbian Iron Lady" once defended the purge of Bosnian non-Serbs as "a natural phenomenon" not a war crime.

In 1992, a widely-circulated photographed showed her stepping over the body of a dead Muslim civilian to kiss the notorious Serb warlord Zeljko Raznjatovic, known as Arkan.

1956: Becomes Professor at Sarajevo University
1990: Co-founds Serbian National Party
1992-95: Part of Bosnian Serb wartime leadership
1995: Supports Dayton peace accord
1997: Forms Serbian Popular Alliance
2000: Resigns seat in Bosnian Serb parliament
But a decade later, she pleaded guilty to crimes against humanity, and apologised to "all the innocent victims of the Bosnian war - Muslims, Croats and Serbs alike".

Her change of heart was seen by some as a calculated manouevre to win a reduced sentence, and by others as part of a sincere and steady evolution of her attitudes to the Balkan wars.

She herself said that she had nothing to gain by seeking a reduced sentence, because at her age (72) even moderate 10-year jail term would in practice mean spending the rest of her life behind bars.

In the event, she got 11 years.


Mrs Plavsic caused a sensation in January 2001, when turned herself in to the tribunal, having learned there was a sealed indictment against her.

Mrs Plavsic dropped her plea because she wanted to show remorse
Lawyer Eugene O'Sullivan
She initially rejected the war crimes and genocide charges laid against her, but as the trial deadline approached, she shifted her position. She pleaded guilty to crimes against humanity, and in return the prosecution dropped the charges of genocide.

Mrs Plavsic came to politics late in life, after a career as a biologist, in which she published about 100 scholarly papers.

There are 12 million Serbs and even if six million perish on the field of battle, there will still be six million to reap the fruits of the struggle
Biljana Plavsic

She was appointed professor of biology at Sarajevo University in 1956 before taking up further academic posts in Prague and the United States.

She was a deputy to the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic - now top of the international war crimes tribunal's wanted list - as thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats were killed or displaced in the 1992-95 Bosnia war.

She once insisted:"There are 12 million Serbs and even if six million perish on the field of battle, there will still be six million to reap the fruits of the struggle."

Even Slobodan Milosevic regarded her as a radical.

Her outbursts led him to question her mental health, while Mr Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic, dubbed her a "female Mengele" in a reference to the notorious Nazi doctor.

But unlike some Bosnian Serb leaders, Mrs Plavsic backed the Dayton peace accord, which brought the conflict to an end.

Break away

The following year, 1996, she was elected president of the Bosnian Serb republic, and soon began to be feted in the West as a relative moderate.

She condemned communism for subjecting to Serbs to "slavery" and, unlike Mr Karadzic, favoured a common Bosnian currency.

Also, while Mr Karadzic twice failed to sack wartime army chief Ratko Mladic - another of the tirbunal's most wanted men - Mrs Plavsic eventually secured his "retirement" and the dismissal of his chief lieutenants.

After a face-off with Mr Karadzic's cronies, she formed her own breakaway faction, the Serbian Popular Alliance, but began to withdraw from political life in the middle of 2000 after the party suffered a setback in local elections.

She resigned her seat in the Bosnian Serb parliament in December 2000.

Bosnia's 'Iron Lady' jailed
27 Feb 03 |  Europe
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21 Nov 00 |  Europe
Bosnia: The legacy of war
15 Nov 00 |  Europe

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