BELGRADE (Reuters) - Radovan Karadzic’s successor as Bosnian Serb president left Swedish prison on Tuesday and arrived in Belgrade after winning early release from her sentence for committing war crimes.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague convicted Biljana Plavsic in February 2003 but last month granted an early release, a decision criticized by Bosnian Muslim relatives of victims of the 1992-95 war but celebrated by Bosnian Serbs.
She was the only woman convicted in The Hague of war crimes during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, Europe’s worst fighting since World War Two.
“I don’t know what to think being free after eight years,” Plavsic told reporters before visiting her brother.
She wore a fur coat and at one point threw a kiss to the crowd upon arrival in central Belgrade with current Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik.
She had served two-thirds of an 11-year jail term for war crimes, and left Stockholm’s airport early Tuesday morning.
Backed by the West, Plavsic, 79, became Bosnian Serb president in 1996, succeeding Karadzic, who on Monday boycotted the start of his trial at The Hague on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including genocide at Srebrenica.
She pleaded guilty to persecution on political, racial and religious grounds by “inviting paramilitaries from Serbia to assist Bosnian Serb forces in effecting ethnic separation by force”. Charges of genocide, extermination and murder were dropped as part of a plea bargain.
Criminals convicted at the ICTY do not serve their sentence in The Hague but are transferred to prisons outside the Netherlands.
“She will reside in Belgrade since she has Serbian citizenship,” Belgrade radio B92 quoted her brother Zdravko Plavisc as saying.
Dodik’s visit from Bosnia to welcome his mentor’s return highlights continued divisions in the country where 100,000 died during the war. European Union and U.S. diplomats have in recent weeks sought to bring together political leaders in the still divided country, yet have not seen any immediate success.
The chairman of Bosnia’s inter-ethnic presidency Zeljko Komsic, an ethnic Croat, canceled a visit to Sweden next month to protest Plavsic’s early release, his cabinet said in a statement.
Komsic asked Sweden last year not to release Plavsic, saying it would be a “grave mistake to show mercy to a person who was ... convicted for the worst crimes against humanity, and who took part in the planning ... and persecution of Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Croats and other non-Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina.”
Additional reporting by Anna Ringstrom in Stockholm and Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo, editing by Adam Tanner