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Former Bosnian Croat Commander Dies After Drinking Poison in Courtroom

  • VOA News

Bosnian people watch the live TV broadcast from the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague as Slobodan Praljak brings a bottle to his lips, in southern Bosnian town of Mostar 140 kms south of Sarajevo, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. 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.

Former Bosnian Croat military commander Slobodan Praljak died Wednesday after drinking poison in a Hague courtroom shortly after a U.N. judge confirmed his 20-year sentence for war crimes against Bosnian Muslims, according to Croatia's state-run news agency.

Dutch law enforcement authorities declared the courtroom at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia a crime scene after Praljak drank from a container and yelled, "I am not a war criminal."

After the presiding judge suspended the hearing and called for medical treatment, paramedics who were at the building entered the courtroom. A court guard said Praljak was treated for more than hour after the defendant said he drank poison.

The events occurred as the U.N. war crimes tribunal upheld the convictions of Praljak and five other Bosnian and Croat political and military leaders who were convicted in 2013 of war crimes during the 1990's.

The rulings were the last to be handed down by the tribunal, which was created by the United Nations in 1993. The court is scheduled to close when its mandate expires at the end of the year.

The officials were convicted four years ago of participating in an "ethnic cleansing" campaign against Bosnian Muslims during the Bosnian war.

The lead suspect, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, died of a heart attack in 2006 just before a ruling in his genocide case. U.N. documents show two other defendants awaiting trial committed suicide in their U.N. prison cells.

Former Defense Minister Jadranko Prlic was convicted of participating in a criminal enterprise by the Croatian government of late President Franjo Tudjman to create an ethnically pure state.

The Croatian government maintained it had "clean hands" during the 1992-95 war and wanted that finding overturned.

Several convictions for specific crimes for Prlic and the other defendants were reversed on appeal, but the presiding judge said "all six remain convicted of numerous and very serious crimes."

The court's original conviction said Tudjman played a leading role in a plan to create a small Croat state in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

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