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Serbs' 'Iron Lady' to hear fate

Plavsic takes her place at the start of the sentencing hearing

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Biljana Plavsic

Age: 72. Biology professor. Divorced, no children.

Born Tuzla, but spent most of life until 1992 in the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo.

Member of Bosnia's collective presidency after nationalists? 1990 victory.

Close ally of Bosnian Serb leader and war crimes indictee Radovan Karadizic.

Known as "the Serb Iron Lady" for publicly snubbing Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic.

Replaced Karadzic as Serbian president in 1996 when he bowed to Western pressure and quit.

In 1997 left the ultra-nationalist Serb Democratic Party and set up the Serb People?s Alliance party, with Western support.

In 1998 standing for the Western-backed Sloga coalition lost the presidency to ultra-nationalist Nikola Poplasen.

THE HAGUE, The Netherlands -- The woman once dubbed the "Iron Lady" of the Balkans is facing the climax of a war crimes court case in which she has been the highest-ranking Serb leader to admit to crimes against humanity.

Biljana Plavsic, 72, who has pleaded guilty on one charge of persecution and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, is attending a three-day hearing at the U.N. war crimes tribunal that will determine her sentence.

Other charges, listed in an indictment published last year, have been dropped. (Details)

The U.N.'s chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said: "It is the first time in this tribunal's history that a senior figure in the former Yugoslavia, indicted in a top leadership role, has admitted responsibility for horrific crimes committed during the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina."

Plavsic -- the only woman publicly indicted by the U.N. at The Hague -- was in court waiting to hear the sentence to be imposed by the war crimes tribunal.

In court on Monday, Plavsic dramatically confessed to crimes against humanity said showed what hr lawyers said was "her remorse fully and unconditionally."

In a document setting out the agreed facts, 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," Reuters reported the document as containing.

Del Ponte said: "Many of those who survived will bear the scars for the rest of their lives.

"There is nothing in the nature of a plea of guilty which in any way alters the seriousness of the crimes themselves."

During his opening remarks, Plavsic's defence lawyer, Eugene O'Sullivan, said the proceedings were "the most important sentencing hearings that has been, or ever will be, conducted at this tribunal."

Plavsic, a former biology professor, had initially pleaded innocent to multiple counts of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes after surrendering to the U.N. court in January 2001. (Background)

In an interview with Belgrade daily Politika, on Sunday, Plavsic said: "I have made no deal about the length of my sentence, nor did I want any such thing.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will testify during the hearing
Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will testify during the hearing

"My only condition was not to testify at other trials, and frankly speaking, I would not have anything to say at the trial against (former Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic."

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

The silver-haired Plavsic, clad in a green and red plaid suit, looked relaxed and chatted with Del Ponte before the session began.

She is expected to deliver a major "mea culpa" in a bid to illustrate her true remorse for the killings, psychological and sexual abuse and deportations inflicted on non-Serbs.

Plavsic was once dubbed the "Iron Lady" for her steely leadership of Bosnia's Serbs in the 1992-5 Bosnian war. (Profile)

During the war she was deputy to Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.

She took over from Karadzic when he was forced from office in 1996, but broke with him a year later and campaigned to oust his hardline allies, with the support of the West.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel will testify during the hearing.

Albright, Holocaust survivor Wiesel, ex-U.N. Balkans envoy Carl Bildt and several Bosnian war survivors will speak for and against Plavsic.

Former Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Milorad Dodik will appear for the defence.

Alex Boraine, former deputy chairman of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, will appear as a so-called "common block" witness agreed upon by prosecution and defence, as will Albright.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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