Bosnian war criminal dies after drinking poison in court

Slobodan Praljak

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

Slobodan Praljak, 72, a former wartime leader, was seen drinking from a small container as he heard the verdict of his appeal hearing.

Ignoring a request to sit down, he swigged from what appeared to be a small flask and announced: "What I drank was poison".

Slobodan Praljak drank from a small bottle and yelled "I am not a war criminal!" during the United Nations verdict at The Hague for his involvement in a campaign to drive Muslims out of Bosnia in the 1990s.

A flustered judge halted the hearing and Praljak was rushed to a nearby hospital, where he died.

The bloody 1992-95 war in Bosnia, in which 100,000 people died and 2.2 million were displaced, mainly pitted Bosnian Muslims against Bosnian Serbs, but also saw brutal fighting between Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats after an initial alliance fell apart. When I first met him it was on the front line in Croatia in 1991, and as soon as the camera crew arrived all hell erupted.

In a dramatic turn of events, a Bosnian Croat war criminal died on Wednesday after drinking poison in a courtroom where hearing against his war crimes was taking place.

Reuters reported a Croatian general telling local media he spoke to the wife of one of the defendants, who confirmed Praljak drank poison and was in a serious condition.

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The original verdict, passed in 2013, sentenced Jadranko Prlic, wartime prime minister of the self-proclaimed Herzeg-Bosnia, to 25 years in prison.

In statements sure to anger Zagreb, the judges upheld the original trial finding that the men had been part of a joint criminal enterprise whose "ultimate objective was shared" by late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, and other leaders.

The ICTY closes its doors on December 31, having indicted and dealt with 161 people.

Tudjman's son, Miroslav, said Praljak's move was a "consequence of his moral position not to accept the verdict that has nothing to do with justice or reality".

He was appealing his punishment before Wednesday's hearing confirmed his 20 year sentence for involvement in driving out Bosnian Muslims of a potential Bosnian Croat state.

The ICTY charged Prlic and his co-defendants in 2004.

Last week, the same tribunal handed former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic a life sentence for his role in the genocide of the Balkan Wars in the 1990s. The six surrendered with Croatia under pressure to comply with the court in return for joining the European Union.

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