THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A former Bosnian Croat military chief has died after swallowing what he said was poison seconds after a United Nations judge confirmed his 20-year sentence for involvement in crimes during the Bosnian war of the 1990s.
In a stunning end to the final case at the U.N.’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Slobodan Praljak tilted back his head and took a gulp from a flask or glass as the judge read out the verdict.
“I just drank poison,” he said. “I am not a war criminal. I oppose this conviction.”
Presiding Judge Carmel Agius had overturned some of Praljak’s convictions but upheld others and left his sentence unchanged.
Agius quickly shut down the hearing and cleared the courtroom.
Tribunal spokesman Nenad Golcevski, when asked by AP if he could confirm the death, said: “I have no information to share at this point.”
Dutch police would not comment on the TV report based on “sources close to Gen. Praljak.”
Wednesday’s hearing was the final case at the groundbreaking tribunal before it closes its doors next month.
The hearing later resumed and, ultimately, all six Croats charged in the case had their sentences, ranging from 25 to 10 years, confirmed. Judges overturned some of their 2013 convictions, but left many unchanged.
The other suspects showed no emotion as Agius reconfirmed their sentences for their involvement in a campaign to drive Muslims out of a would-be Bosnian Croat ministate in Bosnia in the early 1990s.
The tribunal, which last week convicted former Bosnian Serb military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic of genocide and other crimes, was set up in 1993, while fighting still raged in the former Yugoslavia. It indicted 161 suspects and convicted 90 of them.
The appeals judges upheld a key finding that late Croat President Franjo Tudjman was a member of a plan to create a Croat mini-state in Bosnia, but that finding, which angered Croat leaders, was largely overshadowed by Praljak.
The original trial began in April 2006 and provided a reminder of the complex web of ethnic tensions that fueled fighting in Bosnia and continues to create frictions in the country even today.
NOV 29 2017, 9:27 AM ET