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Tuesday, 17 December, 2002, 09:36 GMT
Albright testifies at UN court
Biljana Plavsic
Plavsic made a surprise guilty plea in October
Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is giving evidence against a former Bosnian Serb president at the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Her testimony will help determine the fate of Biljana Plavsic, the highest-ranking Serb leader to admit to crimes against humanity.

Madeleine Albright
Albright had one face to face meeting with Plavsic
Ms Albright is most senior American to appear before the tribunal.

In opening remarks, she compared the horrors of the Bosnian conflict to World War II.

Judges at the three-day hearing could sentence her to anything up to life in prison.

On Monday, the first day of the hearing, Mrs Plavsic, 72, acknowledged that she covered up crimes and "publicly rationalised and justified the ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs" in a document setting out facts underpinning her guilty plea.

Ms Albright was Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001 and met Mrs Plavsic in 1998.

Correspondents say defence lawyer, who are stressing Mrs Plavsic's support for the 1995 Dayton peace accord, hope Mrs Albright's testimony will convince the three-judge panel to show leniency.

'Inhuman' treatment

Also scheduled to testify in the hearing are Carl Bildt, the international community's first envoy in post-war Bosnia, and Alex Boraine, former vice-chairman of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
Swedish diplomat Carl Bildt
Former OSCE mission head Robert Frowick
Nobel Peace prize winner Elie Wiesel
Former Bosnian Serb PM Milorad Dodik
Former deputy head of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Alex Boraine

Mrs Plavsic, the only woman to appear before the tribunal, was a deputy of wartime Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who is now at the top of the prosecutors' wanted list.

She was originally charged with genocide, persecution, extermination and deportation - but several charges were dropped after she pleaded guilty to persecution.

Her lawyers said her changed plea showed "her remorse fully and unconditionally".

On Monday, Nobel Peace prize winner and Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel addressed the court via a video link from Paris as a prosecution witness.

He urged the judges to consider "the pain and suffering of all the victims" of Bosnia's war when they considered Mrs Plavsic's sentence.

One of the first witnesses was a Bosnian Muslim survivor of a Serb-run detention camp who described what he called "inhuman and really brutal" conditions.

Milosevic role

Mrs Plavsic said Radovan Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic, then Serbian president, were the masterminds of the ethnic cleansing plan.

Radovan Karadzic, pictured in 1996
Radovan Karadzic: Still at large

Her plea states that Bosnian Serb political leaders "frequently went to Belgrade to consult with, take guidance from or arrange support from Milosevic".

However this information may not help prosecutors involved in Mr Milosevic's trial, who are seeking to establish a link between him and the Bosnian Serb leadership.

Mr Plavsic has made clear that she will not testify at other trials.

No date has been set for sentencing.

Unusual move

Once known as Bosnia's Iron Lady, Mrs Plavsic was famous for defending the ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs as a natural phenomenon.

She gave her support to the Dayton peace process after falling out with Mr Karadzic in the later stages of the Bosnian conflict.

In a highly unusual move in January 2001, Mrs Plavsic handed herself over to the tribunal.

Then, in October, she pleaded guilty to a charge of planning, instigating and aiding in the persecution of Bosnian Muslims and Croats across Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In doing so, she admitted that the Bosnian Serb army worked together with Yugoslav army units during the Bosnian conflict.

The BBC's Jim Fish
"The sentence is unlikely to be handed down before the new year"

Key stories

Srebrenica massacre



See also:

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