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United Nations war crimes defendant claims to drink poison in court
December 18 2017, 02:51 | Irvin Gilbert
Yugoslavian war criminal 'takes poison' to end hearing at UN court
Wartime commander of Bosnian Croat forces, Slobodan Praljak, 72, sipped a toxic liquid during a hearing at the United Nations war crimes tribunal on Wednesday after his 20-year prison sentence was upheld, his lawyer said.
Former war correspondent Martin Bell - who covered the Bosnian war and met Praljak on several occasions - told Sky News he was not surprised by his "theatrical" demise.
Reuters reported a Croatian general telling local media he spoke to the wife of one of the defendants, who confirmed Praljak drank poison and was in a serious condition.
Judge Agius declared the courtroom to be a crime scene as he restarted the hearing, though gave no further details.
Praljak was among six former leaders of the wartime "Croat Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia (Herceg-Bosna)" - whose guilty verdicts were confirmed today by the Appeals Chamber.
His lawyer shouted out "my client has taken poison" before judge Carmel Agius suspended the hearing and the courtroom was closed.
A court guard has told reporters Slobodan Praljak, 72, was alive and "receiving medical attention" after apparently taking poison in court. Praljak was accused of ordering the attack, which is said to be a symbol of Bosnia's devastation in the war. The city experienced some of the worst of the Croat-Muslim clashes, with almost 80% of its eastern area destroyed in the fighting.
The television quoted sources close to Praljak as saying he died in a hospital in The Hague. It's also important to note that while the courts overturned some of Praljak's convictions, they refused to reduce his sentence.
The original verdict, passed in 2013, sentenced Jadranko Prlic, wartime prime minister of the self-proclaimed Herzeg-Bosnia, to 25 years in prison.
They have not yet passed judgment on the three remaining defendants: Milivoj Petković, 68, Valentin Corić, 61, and Berislav Pušić, 65.
Wednesday's proceeding came a week after the judges imposed a life sentence on former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic, whose ruthlessness in the conflict earned him the title of "Butcher of Bosnia".
During the wider 1992-1995 war the breakaway Croat forces, which were backed by Croatia, mostly sided with the Bosniaks against the breakaway Bosnian Serb republic, which was backed by Serbia.
There was no immediate indication that Praljak had been taken away for treatment.
The chamber acquitted the defendants on charges of crimes committed against civilians in Mostar.