After The Hague upheld
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.