Bosnian Croat General Dies After Drinking Poison in Courtroom

ZAGREB (Reuters) -
A wartime commander of Bosnian Croat forces, Slobodan Praljak, is seen drinking during a hearing at the U.N. war crimes tribunal in the Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday. (ICTY via Reuters)

The wartime commander of Bosnian Croat forces, Slobodan Praljak, died Wednesday after he drank poison seconds after a United Nations judges turned down his appeal against a 20-year sentence for war crimes against Bosnian Muslims, Croatian state media reported.

The report quoted sources close to Praljak as saying he died in a hospital in The Hague.

The final hearing at a United Nations war crimes tribunal was dramatically halted when Praljak claimed to have taken poison.

Slobodan Praljak yelled, “I am not a war criminal!” and appeared to drink from a small bottle, seconds after judges reconfirmed his 20-year prison sentence for involvement in a campaign to drive Muslims out of a would-be Bosnian Croat ministate in Bosnia in the early 1990s.

Presiding Judge Carmel Agius had overturned some of Praljak’s convictions but upheld others and left his sentence unchanged.

Agius quickly halted the hearing at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Dutch police, an ambulance and a fire truck quickly arrived outside the court’s headquarters and emergency service workers, some of them wearing helmets and with oxygen tanks on their backs, went into the court.

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 Gen. 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.

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.

Two other suspects had also had their sentences upheld before the hearing was halted, including the former prime minister of a Croat entity in Bosnia, Jadranko Prlic, who was sentenced to 25 years.