UN war crimes de­fen­dant claims to drink poi­son in court

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines/News -

The fi­nal hear­ing at a United Na­tions war crimes tri­bunal has been dra­mat­i­cally halted af­ter a former Bos­nian Croat mil­i­tary of­fi­cial drank from a small bot­tle in court and claimed to have taken poi­son.

Slo­bo­dan Pral­jak, 72, a former com­man­der in Bos­nia’s 1992-95 war, drank from a small bot­tle or glass and yelled “I am not a war crim­i­nal” mo­ments af­ter judges at the in­ter­na­tional crim­i­nal tri­bunal for the former Yu­goslavia con­firmed his 20year sen­tence on ap­peal on Wednesday.

Pral­jak’s lawyer then shouted “My client says he has taken poi­son”, be­fore the pre­sid­ing judge sus­pended the hear­ing and called for a doc­tor. It could not im­me­di­ately be con­firmed whether Pral­jak had taken poi­son or what the sta­tus of his health was.

Pral­jak was one of six former Bos­nian Croat political and mil­i­tary lead­ers due to hear their ap­peal ver­dicts on Wednesday. All had been con­victed in 2013 of per­se­cut­ing, ex­pelling and mur­der­ing Mus­lims dur­ing Bos­nia’s war.

Wednesday’s hear­ing is the fi­nal case to be com­pleted at the tri­bunal be­fore it closes its doors next month.

The tri­bunal, which last week con­victed the former Bos­nian Serb mil­i­tary chief Gen­eral Ratko Mladić of geno­cide and other crimes, was set up in 1993 while fight­ing was on­go­ing in the former Yu­goslavia. It in­dicted 161 sus­pects and con­victed 90 of them.

Pral­jak was specif­i­cally charged with order­ing the de­struc­tion of Mostar’s 16th-cen­tury bridge in Novem­ber 1993, which judges said “caused dis­pro­por­tion­ate dam­age to the Mus­lim civil­ian pop­u­la­tion”.

The pre­sid­ing judge Carmel Agius had over­turned some of Pral­jak’s con­vic­tions but left his sen­tence un­changed.

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