THE HAGUE (Reuters) – A former Croatian military commander in Bosnia swallowed what he said was poison in a UN war crimes tribunal on Wednesday and died shortly after losing an appeal against his 20-year sentence. of prison.
The apparent suicide in the court of Slobodan Praljak, which was broadcast on video, came in the final minutes of the last sentence in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which closes next month after 24 years.
Praljak, 72 years old, with a white beard, was taken to the hospital after drinking from a bottle or glbad while an ICTY judge read the appeals against him and five other convicted Bosnian war criminals, the court spokesman said. , Nenad Golcevski.
"I just took poison," the former general told the beleaguered court. "I'm not a war criminal, I'm opposed to this conviction." After swallowing the drink, he sat down and collapsed in his chair, said a lawyer who was in the courtroom at the time.
"Praljak drank a liquid in the court and quickly fell ill," said Golcevski. He was treated by the medical staff of the court, but "he died today at the HMC hospital in The Hague," he said.
The presiding judge Carmel Agius hastily suspended the hearings and the courtroom was declared a scene of crimes by the Dutch authorities. As a forensic investigation was initiated, the camera was closed and the public ordered to leave.
"Do not take the glbad!" Agius said, instructing the guards to lower the blinds and block a glbad partition that separates the court from the public.
In the chaotic moments that followed, guards and paramedics rushed in and out of the courtroom, and ambulances rushed away.
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, whose country was the patron of the Croatian separatist forces in the Bosnian war of 1992-95, said he regretted the death of Praljak and offered condolences to his family. "His act tells more about the deep ethical injustice towards the six Bosnian Croats and the Croatian people."
The ICTY confirmed on appeal the conviction of Praljak on charges of crimes against humanity for persecution, badbadinations and expulsions of Bosnian Muslims from the territory captured by Bosnian nationalist Croats and the brutal imprisonment of 1,000 Muslims.
A reading of the sentence, which also ruled on appeals against convictions and sentences against five others convicted by the Bosnian Croats, resumed more than two hours after Praljak drank the apparent poison.
The incident overshadowed the appellate rulings, which were important for Croatia: it suspended a session of parliament so legislators could continue the hearing.
In the Bosnian southern city of Mostar, where Bosnian Croats and Muslims fought each other in the war and now coexist in an uncomfortable peace, the cafes were closed to avoid incidents.
] Praljak was acquitted of some charges of the senseless destruction related to the bombing of the Croatian Bosnian militia from the iconic Old Bridge of the Ottoman era, because the judges ruled that it had been a legitimate military objective.
About a thousand Bosnian Croats met in a square in Mostar late on Wednesday to light candles in support of Praljak. A mbad in his honor was held in a crowded Catholic cathedral, where church goers covered themselves with Croatian flags.
"I came here to support our generals and pay my respects to General Praljak, who could not stand the injustice and delivered his final verdict, he is our pride and hero," said Darko Drmac, a Bosnian Croat war veteran. .
Fikret Kurtic, a Muslim from Mostar who was detained in a detention center run by Croats during the war, said the verdict could not change the past, but "could serve as an example for others in this divided country of the crimes can not go unpunished. " "
Kasim Brkovic, an unemployed Bosnian Muslim war veteran and former prisoner, said:" The same people are in power today and we still live in a field, it's just that they no longer earn us. "
" NO A CRIMINAL WAR "
The ICTY also confirmed the convictions of Jadranko Prlic, former political leader of the Bosnian Croat separatist during the war, along with military and police figures Bruno Stojic, Milivoj Petrovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic.
The judges ruled that there was a criminal conspiracy, with the participation of the Croatian government under then-President Franjo Tudjman – who died in 1999 – aimed at the "ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population" from parts of Bosnia to consolidate Croatian domination there.
The defendants on Wednesday received sentences ranging from 10 to 25. The decision can not be appealed.
The post-war president of Bosnia, president of Serbia and Croatia a, Dragan Covic, Croatian, said: "(Praljak) showed the world what kind of sacrifice he is willing to make to prove he is not a war criminal. "
Earlier, two defendants awaiting their ICTY trial, both Serbs, committed suicide by hanging themselves in their UN cells, according to court documents.Slavko Dogmanovic died in 1998 and Milan Babic was found dead in his closed cell in 2006
The ICTY formally indicted 161 suspects from Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo in connection with atrocities in the ethnic wars there during the 1990s.Of the 83 convicted, more than 60 of them were ethnic Serbs.
The court's main suspect, the former Yugoslav and Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, died of a heart attack in March 2006 months before a judgment in his genocide trial.
Last week, the former military commander of Bosnian Serbs Ratko Mladic was found guilty of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for mbadacres and expulsions of Muslims and the siege of Sarajevo, and condemned to chain perp etua.
Mladic's lawyers tried to delay the verdict mid-reading by saying he was too sick to continue, and Mladic was later removed from the courtroom after shouting that the judges were "liars".
Additional reporting by Toby Sterling in Amsterdam, Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo, Maja Zuvela in Mostar and Igor Ilic in Zagreb; written by Anthony Deutsch; edition by Mark Heinrich