A Bosnian Croat leader convicted of war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia died after drinking poison as he was declared guilty in court.
After hearing his 20-year jail sentence, Slobodan Praljak, 72, yelled that he wasn’t a war criminal and drank something from a plastic cup. His lawyer then told the tribunal that the defendant had ingested poison. Praljak was taken to the hospital, where he died.
“I reject your verdict,” Praljak — a military general who worked as a director in theater and television in his civilian life — shouted before he drank the liquid during his sentencing live-broadcast from The Hague. He and five other Bosnian Croats were sentenced to terms ranging from 10 to 25 years in jail for the crimes committed when they were leaders of the self-styled Bosnian Croat state in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war in the 1990s.
Judge Camel Agius pronounced the defendants guilty of murdering civilians, “terrorizing” the Bosnian Muslim population by shelling the eastern part of the city Mostar, and forcibly relocating non-combatants. More than 100,000 people died in the conflict among the three ethnic groups in the former Yugoslav republic, which also included Bosnian Serbs. A U.S.-brokered peace agreement stopped the fighting in 1995.
The ruling upheld verdicts originally handed down in 2013. It found that the accused were acting as part of a “joint criminal enterprise” that also included the wartime leaders of the Republic of Croatia, one of two former Yugoslav republics that later joined the European Union.
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic expressed condolences to Praljak’s family and denounced the rulings as a “deep moral injustice” against the convicted. He also rejected the finding that the Adriatic state was complicit in war crimes, instead saying it was defending its ethnic-kin and others from neighboring Serbia.
“The verdict incorrectly assesses the role of Croatian leadership in the war,” Plenkovic said in the capital, Zagreb. “Croatia gave refuge to hundreds of thousands of Bosnian refugees, also including Bosnian Muslims.”
He said it was “absurd” that none of the tribunal’s verdicts had found Serbia’s wartime leaders, and particularly late President Slobodan Milosevic, responsible for war crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ethnic-Serb authorities from Bosnia and Herzegovina, including military leaders Ratko Mladic and former President Radovan Karadzic, were convicted.
Croatian lawmakers also reacted with apparent shock.
“The verdict is unjust, it is not based on historical facts, and we are rejecting it,” assembly Speaker Gordan Jandrokovic said.