THE HAGUE, Netherlands – The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal announced Tuesday it has approved the early release from prison of former Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic after she served two-thirds of her 11-year sentence for persecution.
The decision means that one of the most senior political leaders ever convicted by the U.N. court could walk free as early as next month from the prison in Sweden where she has served most of her sentence.
Plavsic, 79, was sentenced in 2003 after pleading guilty to a single count of persecution, a crime against humanity, as part of an ethnic cleansing campaign to drive Muslims and Croats out of Serb-controlled areas of Bosnia.
Her guilty plea was part of a plea bargain to have other charges, including genocide, dropped.
The campaign destroyed 850 Muslim and Croat villages and included 1,100 documented mass murders, prosecutors said. A campaign of destruction of sacred sites laid waste to more than 100 mosques and seven Catholic churches.
Tribunal President Patrick Robinson said in a decision dated Monday and released by the tribunal Tuesday that Plavsic should be released "notwithstanding the gravity of her crimes."
Plavsic was sentenced in February 2003 and transferred to Sweden later that year. While in a women's prison there, she has kept herself busy walking, cooking and baking, according to Robinson's written decision.
After her plea deal, Plavsic testified once for prosecutors, against former Bosnian Serb political ally Momcilo Krajisnik, who was convicted of atrocities and sentenced to 20 years.
However, she refused to testify against former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and prosecutors said she "has not been overtly helpful or anxious to cooperate" with their cases.
Munira Subasic, the head of the association "Mothers of Srebrenica" in Bosnia, said she was bitter but not surprised by Plavsic's release.
Munira lost her only son in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and is still looking for his body while Plavsic who was a leading member of the regime blamed for the murder of about 8,000 Muslims in the eastern Bosnian enclave is already getting out of prison.
"The criminals have more rights than the victims. Europe is proving this again," she said.
Plavsic is one of the few suspects to admit their crimes at the tribunal.
In an emotional speech at a sentencing hearing in December 2000, she told judges that the Bosnian Serb leadership, "of which I was a necessary part, led an effort which victimized countless innocent people."
She added that, "The knowledge that I am responsible for such human suffering and for soiling the character of my people will always be with me."
No official date for Plavsic's release was given in Robinson's order, but he noted that under Swedish law she becomes eligible for release on Oct. 27.
Martin Valfridsson, a government official in Stockholm, said the Swedish government will decide "within the next few months" when Plavsic will be released.
Valfridsson said that since Plavsic is not a Swedish citizen and doesn't hold a residence permit in the Nordic country, Sweden "will make sure that she can go to a country where she has the right to be" after her release.