Bosnian Croat leader Slobodan Praljak dies after drinking poison in UN war crimes court

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01:14 mins.
29.11.2017

ITCY: 'Mr. Praljak drank a liquid and quickly fell ill'

Bosnian Croat ex-General Slobodan Praljak drank poison after the Hague war crimes tribunal upheld his 2013 war crimes sentence. Croatia's prime minister has criticized the court for its "unjust" verdict.

Bosnian Croat ex-General Slobodan Praljak died Wednesday evening after drinking poison at a UN court hearing in The Hague.

"One of the six defendants ... passed away today in the HMC hospital in The Hague," said court spokesman Nenad Golcevski.

Earlier, judges part of the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)  had rejected the 72-year-old's appeal against his 20-year prison sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

Upon hearing the verdict, Praljak yelled: "Judges, Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal. I reject the verdict with contempt." He then drank from a small glass bottle and told the courtroom: "What I drank was poison."

The presiding judge called for medical assistance and ordered the session to be closed to the public.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has described the verdict as "unjust" and offered his condolences to Praljak's family.

Read more: Hague judges jail Bosnian Croat leaders, condemn Tudjman

In pictures: What Slobodan Praljak and other Bosnian Croat generals were convicted for

Six generals

The UN court on Wednesday upheld the sentences of Jadranko Prlić (left), Bruno Stojić (center left) and Slobodan Praljak (center) before Praljak drank what he claimed was poison, and later died. Milivoj Petković (center right), Valentin Čorić (right) and Berislav Pušić (not pictured) also had their existing convictions upheld.

In pictures: What Slobodan Praljak and other Bosnian Croat generals were convicted for

Bosnian crime scenes

The generals were involved in directing the Croatian Defense Council (HVO), the Bosnian Croat army that carried out ethnic cleansing in eight areas in central and southern Bosnia: Čapljina, Gornji Vakuf, Jablanica, Ljubuški, Mostar, Prozor, Stolac and Vareš. Many victims were Muslim Bosniaks, but the HVO also targeted other non-Croat ethnic groups.

In pictures: What Slobodan Praljak and other Bosnian Croat generals were convicted for

Mostar

HVO forces attacked the city of Mostar in 1993. They destroyed the city's Mosque and killed multiple Bosniak army prisoners, mainly via savage beatings. Slobodan Praljak, who was the HVO's leading commander, also ordered the destruction of the city's 16th-century Ottoman bridge known as "Stari Most" ("Old Bridge"). The renowned bridge was rebuilt 11 years later.

In pictures: What Slobodan Praljak and other Bosnian Croat generals were convicted for

Gornji Vakuf

HVO forces pillaged and destroyed several villages in the Gornji Vakuf in early 1993. In many cases, HVO soldiers set fire to homes of Muslim Bosniaks. According to the verdict in The Hague, Jadranko Prlić, Bruno Stojić, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petković and Valentin Čorić helped organize and carry out the military operations in Gornji.

In pictures: What Slobodan Praljak and other Bosnian Croat generals were convicted for

Jablanica

The villages of Sovići and Doljani in the scenic area of Jablanica came under heavy Croat shelling in April 1993. After entering the villages, HVO soldiers killed four Bosniak army detainees and abused multiple women and children. In its 2013 verdict, The Hague court determined that Milivoj Petković had also been responsible for blocking international observers from entering Sovići and Doljani.

In pictures: What Slobodan Praljak and other Bosnian Croat generals were convicted for

Prozor

The six generals were also involved in HVO attacks on a dozen villages in Prozor, including Parcani, Podaniš, Lizoperci, Lug, Skrobućani and Tošćanica. Croat forces burned Bosniak homes, destroyed their property and killed multiple men and women. In one instance, they "violently abused" between 400 and 500 Bosniak soldiers in a local secondary school. Some detainees were sexually abused.

In pictures: What Slobodan Praljak and other Bosnian Croat generals were convicted for

Čapljina

The Lokve and Višići mosques were destroyed in the Čapljina municipality in the summer of 1993 after HVO soldiers began forcibly evicting Bosniak civilians from the area. During the operation, two women and an elderly disabled man were shot and killed. A few days later, Croat forces executed 12 Bosniak men before burning their bodies outside of the village of Bivolje Brdo.

Praljak blamed for destruction of Mostar bridge

Before the interruption, the court had also confirmed lengthy prison terms for Jadranko Prlić and Bruno Stojić. The judges reaffirmed lengthy prison sentences for the remaining three defendants — Milivoj Petković, Valentin Čorić and Berislav Pušić — after the session was resumed.

In its 2013 verdict, the court had found Praljak guilty of multiple crimes, inclduing ordering the destruction of the renowned 16th-century Ottoman bridge in Mostar, which was rebuilt in 2004.

The poisoning prompted Croatia's right-wing president, Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, to cut short her visit to Iceland and return to Zagreb, according to local media outlets.

Read more: ICTY Hague Tribunal ends prosecutions of Yugoslav war crimes but legacy lingers

Last-minute drama

The Wednesday ruling was to be the last in the 24-year history of the UN tribunal. The court has indicted 161 suspects, 90 of whom were convicted of committing war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, including Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia.

Last week, the UN judges passed a life sentence against ex-Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, also known as "the Butcher of Bosnia" over his role in the genocide against Muslim Bosniaks.

The bridge in the Bosnian city of Mostar war rebuilt using the original stones

amp, dj/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)