30 Nov 2017

War criminal dies after drinking poison in court

6:59 am on 30 November 2017

Bosnian Croat war criminal has died in hospital after drinking poison during an appeal hearing in The Hague.

Slobodan Praljak seen in a videograb of footage of the International Criminal Tribunal.

Slobodan Praljak seen in a videograb of footage of the International Criminal Tribunal. Photo: AFP / ICTY

The dramatic events erupted when Slobodan Praljak, 72, shouted he was not a war criminal and was seen to drink from a small bottle, seconds after a United Nations judges turned down his appeal against a 20-year sentence for war crimes against Bosnian Muslims.

"I just drank poison," he said. "I am not a war criminal. I oppose this conviction."

The former commander of Bosnian Croat forces was sentenced for crimes in the city of Mostar during the Bosnian war in 1992-95.

Though allies against the Bosnian Serbs in the 1992-95 war, Bosnian Croats and Muslims also fought each other for a period of 11 months. Some of the fiercest fighting was in Mostar.

On hearing his 20-year jail term had been upheld, Praljak stood and raised his hand to his mouth, tipped his head back and appeared to swallow a glass of liquid.

Presiding judge Carmel Agius immediately suspended the proceedings and an ambulance was called.

"Okay," the judge said. "We suspend the... We suspend... Please, the curtains. Don't take away the glass that he used when he drank something."

Before the curtains were lowered, the courtroom could be seen in a state of confusion, the BBC reported. An ambulance could later be seen arriving outside the tribunal while a helicopter hovered above the scene.

Several emergency rescue workers also rushed into the building carrying equipment in backpacks.

A court spokesman said Praljak had been rushed to a nearby hospital, where he died.

The events came in the final minutes of the court's last verdict before closing down. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), established by the United Nations in 1993, shuts its doors next month when its mandate expires.

The same tribunal last week convicted the former Bosnian Serb military chief General Ratko Mladic of genocide and other war crimes.

The court's lead suspect, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, died of a heart attack in March 2006 months before a ruling in his genocide case.

Praljak was one of six former Bosnian Croat political and military leaders up before the court. He was jailed for crimes against humanity.

Informed that soldiers were rounding up Muslims in Prozor in the summer of 1993, he had failed to make any serious efforts to stop the action, the UN war crimes tribunal found.

He had also failed to act on information that murders were being planned, as well as attacks on members of international organisations and the destruction of the city's historic Old Bridge and mosques.

Those appearing with him included Jadranko Prlic, the former prime minister of the Bosnian Croats' breakaway statelet.

- BBC / Reuters

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