Upon hearing that his appeal was rejected by the UN war crimes court in the Hague, ex-Croatian General Slobodan Praljak drank from a bottle he claimed contained poison. The court proceedings at the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) were promptly adjourned.
Praljak, who commanded ethnic Croat troops in the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia, yelled: “Judges, Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal. I reject the verdict with contempt.” He then drank from a small glass bottle in the courtroom. Moments later, as the court moved on to the next defendant, Praljak loudly announced “What I drank was poison.”
The presiding judge has called for medical assistance and ordered the session to be closed to the public. While the content of the bottle was not immediately clear, Praljak has been hospitalized after the incident.
Later on Wednesday, Croatian state broadcaster HRT reported that Praljak had died. This was echoed by Croatia’s Jutarnji List newspaper, citing “unofficial” information.
Read more: Hague judges jail Bosnian Croat leaders, condemn Tudjman
Spokesman for the tribunal Nenad Golcevski, when asked by the AP news agency if he could confirm the death, said: “I have no information to share at this point.”
Dutch police have declared the Hague courtroom a crime scene, the presiding judge Carmel Agius said. The hearing reportedly continued in a different courtroom later on Wednesday.
Praljak blamed for destruction of Mostar bridge
Before the interruption, the appeal ruling on Wednesday confirmed lengthy prison terms for three of the six defendants, all Bosnian Croats. The 25-year prison sentence for the best-known defendant, Croat wartime political leader Jadranko Prlic, was also upheld.
The bridge in the Bosnian city of Mostar war rebuilt using the original stones
The 72-year-old Praljak was specifically charged with ordering the destruction of the renowned 16th-century Ottoman bridge in Mostar, which was rebuilt in 2004, years after the war ended. The court’s ruling confirmed the 25-year prison term he received for his role in the war.
Journalists waiting in front of the Hague courtroom were told to clear the area in order to allow access to emergency services. A police vehicle, a fire truck, and an ambulance were deployed to the scene.
The Hague incident prompted Croatia’s right-wing president, Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, to cut short her visit to Iceland and return to Zagreb, local media outlets reported. The government was reportedly due to hold an emergency session, with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic due to address the public in the afternoon.
The Wednesday ruling was to be the last in the 24-year history of the UN-founded war crimes tribunal, which is set to close its doors at the end of 2017. The court 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.
dj/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)