A Bosnian-Croat war chief has died after downing poison during his war crimes trial at The Hague, Croatian state TV reports.
Slobodan Praljak yelled, ‘I am not a war criminal!’ and drank a dark liquid from a small bottle seconds after losing his appeal against a 20-year prison sentence at the International Criminal Tribunal, in the Netherlands.
‘I just drank poison,’ he added. ‘I am not a war criminal. I oppose this conviction.’
Praljak, 72, is one of six Croatian politicians sentenced to jail for their involvement in a campaign to drive Muslims out of a would-be Bosnian Croat mini-state in Bosnia in the early 1990s.
His lawyer shouted out ‘my client has taken poison’ before judge Carmel Agius suspended the hearing and the courtroom was closed.
Moments later ambulance crews arrived at the scene and a helicopter began hovering overhead.
Several emergency rescue workers rushed into the building carrying equipment in backpacks, while court officials called for calm.
A court guard later told reporters that Praljak is alive and ‘receiving medical attention’.
But Croatia’s state-run TV service later said he died in hospital in the Netherlands, quoting a source close to him.
Judge Agius declared the courtroom to be a crime scene as he restarted the hearing, though gave no further details.
Dutch police also said an investigation had been launched, but would not disclose whether Praljak was alive or dead.
During this time, Praljak and his allies were trying to establish the ‘Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia’ – an ethnically Croatian enclave, with the city of Mostar as it’s ‘capital’.
The Herzeg-Bosnia republic was declared by the Bosnian Croats in 1993, but as part of the peace agreement in 1994, it merged with the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina that we know today.
Praljak was specifically charged with ordering the destruction of Mostar’s 16th-century bridge in November 1993, which judges in the first trial had said ’caused disproportionate damage to the Muslim civilian population’.
A symbol of Bosnia’s devastation in the war, the Ottoman-era bridge was later rebuilt.
But in their ruling, the judges in fact allowed part of Praljak’s appeal, saying the bridge had been a legitimate military target during the conflict.
‘It’s just an old bridge,’ Praljak said in 1993, showing no regard for the emotional effect the destruction had on ordinary Bosnians of all ethnic backgrounds. (Mailonline)