Bosnian Croat war criminal dies after drinking poison in court

Former Bosnian Croat commander Slobodan Praljak died in hospital Wednesday after drinking poison during a hearing in The Hague. The dramatic scene occurred shortly after UN judges upheld his prison sentence.

The war crimes appeal session was cut short Wednesday when Praljak, ignoring the judge’s order to be seated, declared his innocence. “I reject this verdict,” said the 72-year-old convicted war criminal. He then tilted his head and took a swig from what appeared to be a small bottle before declaring, “What I just drank was poison,” according to an English translation of the original Bosnian.

The presiding judge suspended the hearing and called for a doctor. An ambulance was at the building and paramedics went to the courtroom.

Responding to the news of Prajlak’s death, Croatia's Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic slammed the "injustice" of the UN tribunal.

"I want to voice my deepest condolences to the family of General Slobodan Praljak," Plenkovic told a news conference. "His act, which we all unfortunately witnessed today, speaks mostly about the deep moral injustice towards six Croats from Bosnia and the Croatian people," he added.

Former military commander Praljak was one of six Bosnian Croats whose convictions were upheld by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

Courtroom declared ‘a crime scene’

The courtroom where the dramatic scene unfolded was sealed off and Presiding Judge Carmel Agius said that it was now a "crime scene" so that Dutch police could investigate. Police in The Hague declined comment on the case.

Praljak had been in the tribunal's custody ahead of the hearing and it was not clear how he could have got access to poison or how he apparently managed to smuggle it into the tightly guarded courtroom.

The hearing later resumed and, ultimately, all six Croats charged in the case had their sentences, ranging from 10 to 25 years, confirmed. Judges overturned some of their 2013 convictions, but left many unchanged.

The other suspects showed no emotion as Agius reconfirmed their sentences for their involvement in a campaign to drive Muslims out of a would-be Bosnian Croat ministate in Bosnia in the early 1990s.

Wednesday's hearing was the final case at the groundbreaking tribunal before it closes its doors next month. The tribunal, which last week convicted former Bosnian Serb military chief General Ratko Mladic of genocide and other crimes, was set up in 1993, while fighting still raged in the former Yugoslavia. It indicted 161 suspects and convicted 90 of them.

The appeals judges upheld a key finding that late Croat President Franjo Tudjman was a member of a plan to create a Croat mini-state in Bosnia, but that finding, which angered Croat leaders, was largely overshadowed by Praljak.

The original trial began in April 2006 and provided a reminder of the complex web of ethnic tensions that fueled fighting in Bosnia and continues to create frictions in the country even today.


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