Convicted war criminal back in Belgrade

Radovan Karadzic's successor as Bosnian Serb president left a Swedish prison yesterday 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, the only woman to be found guilty of war crimes during the 1992-95 Bosnian war – Europe's worst fighting since the Second World War. Last month's decision to grant her early release was criticised by Bosnian Muslim relatives of victims of the 1992-95 war but celebrated by Bosnian Serbs. She had served two-thirds of an 11-year jail term for war crimes, and left Stockholm's airport early yesterday morning.

Sporting a fur coat, she arrived in central Belgrade with the current Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik, and at one point threw a kiss to the crowd.

"I don't know what to think being free after eight years," Plavsic told reporters before going to visit her brother.

Backed by the West, Plavsic, 79, became Bosnian Serb president in 1996, succeeding Karadzic. She pleaded guilty to a charge of 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 are transferred to prisons outside the Netherlands to serve their time.

"She will reside in Belgrade since she has Serbian citizenship," the Belgrade radio station B92 quoted her brother, Zdravko Plavsic, as saying.