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Genocide charge for Bosnia's Plavsic

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CNN) -- A former Bosnian Serb president has surrendered to U.N. authorities in The Hague to face war crimes charges.

Biljana Plavsic, 70, known as the "Iron Lady of the Balkans" and president between 1996 and 1998, is due to appear before the War Crimes Tribunal on Thursday.

Plavsic will face charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, violations of the laws and customs of war, and grave breaches of the Geneva Convention, tribunal spokeswoman Caral Del Ponte said.

The War Crimes Tribunal confirmed that an indictment was issued -- but not publicised -- against Plavsic on April 7 last year.

Her attorney Krstan Simic told CNN it was likely the indictment would relate to war crimes committed in Bosnia in 1992.

  CHAT
 
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 VIDEO
CNN's Zain Verjee reports former Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic has decided to cooperate with the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal

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Main developments
Plavsic is handed indictment in written form
Charges include genocide and crimes against humanity
Plavsic knew before court appearance she would be indicted
Plavsic lawyer says she voluntarily decided to co-operate with tribunal
She is expected to stay in The Hague for some time
Trial not expected to begin before November 2001
From CNN Belgrade bureau
 
  AUDIO
Vinci

Christiane Amanpour: "Her nationalism was known far and wide during the war."

766K/65 sec.
AIFF or WAV sound
 

Simic travelled to The Hague with Plavsic and said she was aware that she had been indicted "in secret" by the war crimes tribunal in 1992.

Simic added: "Mrs Plavsic was faced with the indictment, but the decision to surrender was her own. She is aware that this is the only place she can legally prove her innocence."

CNN's Christiane Amanpour said Plavsic, a virulent nationalist, is the first woman to be indicted by the court and is the first Bosnian Serb to go voluntarily to The Hague.

"She is in custody and is getting no special treatment," Amanpour added. "She will go to the court on Thursday to enter a plea."

It is believed that her indictment is connected to that of Momcilo Krajisnik, the former Bosnian Parliament Speaker, who was arrested in Bosnia last year and has been in custody since. Krajisnik was indicted on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The former biology professor is expected to be in The Hague for at least a week and appear before the court several times. Simic said her trial is not expected to begin until November 2001.

Plavsic held a top Bosnian Serb leadership position during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war and was closely linked to other Bosnian Serb leaders who have since been indicted for war crimes.

The war that led to dozens of Bosnian Serbs being indicted as war criminals for the murder and torture of tens of thousands of Muslims and Croats.

CNN's Alessio Vinci said that following the indictment, Plavsic had a choice of going into hiding or co-operating with war crimes investigators.

"When Plavsic left for The Hague yesterday she already knew she was going to be indicted," he added.

He said in recent years she had become closer to the West after breaking ties with hardliners in 1997. She supported Western-backed candidates during recent elections is Bosnia.

"She gained international support for criticising and accusing Bosnian Serb hardliners of corruption and profiteering."

He said that in recent times Plavsic has become less outspoken and supported Western-backed candidates during recent elections in Bosnia.

But she has also retained her nationalistic views and often criticises arrests of alleged war criminals by NATO in Bosnia.

CNN's Zain Verjee said that during the war, Plavsic asserted that Serbs were racially superior to Croats and Muslims.

She was also a key aide to Radovan Karadzic, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs who was also indicted for war crimes by the international court.

He remains at large, as does the former military commander of the Bosnian Serbs, Ratko Mladic, who has also been indicted. Another prominent figure Momcilo Kkrajisnk was arrested last year.

The United States has welcomed her decision to go The Hague. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said: I understand she intends to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal.

"I respect her for living up to what we think is an international obligation and is going to do the right thing."



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RELATED SITES:
Bosnia War Crimes Tribunal
Major War Criminals/Suspects
Governments on the WWW: Bosnia and Herzegovina

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