A United Nations war crimes tribunal was dramatically halted when a former Bosnian-Croat military leader appeared to drink poison seconds after judges upheld his 20-year sentence.
Slobodan Praljak, 72, yelled, ‘I am not a war criminal!’ and appeared to drink from a small bottle, seconds after losing his appeal at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, in The Hague, Netherlands.
Praljak is one of six Croatian politicians sentenced to jail for their involvement in a campaign to drive Muslims out of a would-be Bosnian Croat mini-state in Bosnia in the early 1990s.
Shock: Slobodan Praljak, 72, shouted ‘I am not a war criminal!’ and brought a small bottle to his lips during a Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands
Wednesday’s hearing was quickly suspended as Praljak’s lawyer shouted out: ‘My client says he has taken poison.’
As court officials surrounded Praljak, presiding judge Carmel Agius immediately ordered the proceedings suspended and the curtains surrounding the courtroom were closed.
Within minutes, an ambulance was seen arriving outside the tribunal in The Hague, while a helicopter hovered overhead.
Several emergency rescue workers also rushed into the building carrying equipment in backpacks, while court officials called for calm.
A court guard later told reporters that Praljak is alive and ‘receiving medical attention’.
Drama: Praljak appeared to drink the poison seconds after losing his appeal at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, in The Hague, Netherlands.
Protest: Fellow convicts Bruno Stojic and Milivoj Petkovic, sitting on either side of the Croat politician, look on in shock and surprise as he downs the contents of the bottle
Going to jail: Judges in Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague reconfirmed his 20-year sentence for crimes committed during Bosnian War.
Bosnian Croats and Muslims were allies against the Serbs but fought each other for 11 months from 1993-1994.
Praljak, a Croatian politician and general in the the Croatian Army, also commanded Bosnian Croat forces known as the HVO from July to November 1993.
During this time, Praljak and his allies were trying to establish the ‘Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia’ – an ethnically Croatian enclave, with the city of Mostar as it’s ‘capital’.
The Herzeg-Bosnia republic was declared by the Bosnian Croats in 1993, but as part of the peace agreement in 1994, it merged with the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina that we know today.
Slobodan Praljak, center, enters the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday, to hear the verdict in the appeals case
Mostar saw the worst of the Croat-Muslim clashes, with nearly 80 per cent of the city’s east destroyed in the fighting.
Praljak was specifically charged with ordering the destruction of Mostar’s 16th-century bridge in November 1993, which judges in the first trial had said ’caused disproportionate damage to the Muslim civilian population’.
A symbol of Bosnia’s devastation in the war, the Ottoman-era bridge was later rebuilt.
But in their ruling, the judges in fact allowed part of Praljak’s appeal, saying the bridge had been a legitimate military target during the conflict.
‘It’s just an old bridge,’ Praljak said in 1993, showing no regard for the emotional effect the destruction had on ordinary Bosnians of all ethnic backgrounds.