Af­ter The Hague up­held

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MIKE CORDER

a war crim­i­nal’s 20-year pri­son sen­tence, the for­mer Croa­t­ian gen­eral drank what was thought to be poi­son and died.

the hague — A con­victed war crim­i­nal from Croa­tia swal­lowed what he said was poi­son and died Wed­nes­day af­ter a United Na­tions court in the Nether­lands up­held his 20-year sen­tence for com­mit­ting crimes against hu­man­ity dur­ing the Bos­nian war of the 1990s.

In a stun­ning end to the fi­nal case at the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Tri­bunal for the for­mer Yu­goslavia, for­mer Croa­t­ian gen­eral Slo­bo­dan Pral­jak yelled, “I am not a war crim­i­nal!” in a court­room and ap­peared to drink from a small bot­tle.

Med­i­cal staff at the tri­bunal in The Hague rushed to Pral­jak’s side be­fore he was taken to a hospi­tal, where he died, a tri­bunal spokesman told re­porters.

The court­room where the dra­matic scene un­folded was sealed Pre­sid­ing Judge Carmel Agius said that it was a “crime scene” and that Dutch po­lice could in- ves­ti­gate.

Pral­jak and five other for­mer Bos­nian Croat of­fi­cials were conoff. victed as part of a crim­i­nal plan to carve out a Bos­nian Croat min­istate in­side Bos­nia in the early 1990s. On Wed­nes­day, the war crimes court sus­tained all their guilty ver­dicts.

Croa­t­ian Prime Min­is­ter An­drej Plenkovic of­fered con­do­lences to Pral­jak’s fam­ily. Pral­jak’s ac­tions re­flected the “deep moral in­jus­tice” done to the six Bos­nian Croats, the prime min­is­ter said.

Croa­t­ian state TV re­ported that Pres­i­dent Kolinda GrabarKi­tarovic cut short a visit to Ice­land and that the gov­ern­ment held an emer­gency ses­sion.

Pral­jak, 72, had been in the tri­bunal’s cus­tody be­fore the hear­ing. Poi­son has not yet been iden­ti­fied as the cause of his death, and it was not clear how he would have got­ten ac­cess to a lethal sub­stance or man­aged to smug­gle it into the court­room.

A lawyer who has fre­quently de­fended sus­pects at the war crimes court said it would be easy to bring poi­son into the court.

Ser­bian lawyer Toma Fila said se­cu­rity for lawyers and other court staff “is just like at an air­port.” Se­cu­rity of­fi­cers in­spect metal ob­jects and con­fis­cate cell­phones, but “pills and small quan­ti­ties of liq­uids” would not be reg­is­tered, Fila said.

Pral­jak was a Bos­nian Croat writer and film and the­ater direc­tor who be­came a wartime gen­eral.

He was found guilty of crimes that in­cluded mur­der, per­se­cu­tion and in­hu­mane treat­ment as part of the plan to drive Mus­lims out of a would-be Bos­nian Croat ter­ri­tory in Bos­nia.

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

Af­ter Pral­jak heard his 20-year sen­tence, he swal­lowed what he told the court was poi­son. Agius im­me­di­ately shut down the hear­ing and cleared the court­room.

The hear­ing later re­sumed and, ul­ti­mately, all six Croats charged in the case had their sen­tences, rang­ing from 25 to 10 years, con­firmed.

The other sus­pects showed no emo­tion as Agius re­con­firmed their sen­tences.

In the past, two Serbs have taken their lives while in the tri­bunal’s cus­tody.

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 Ratko Mladic of geno­cide and other crimes, was set up in 1993, while fight­ing still raged in the for­mer Yu­goslavia.


This im­age from live footage of the court hear­ing in The Hague shows Slo­bo­dan Pral­jak swal­low­ing what he said was poi­son.

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