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Roundup: Stunning drama at Hague UN court grabs attention from Croatia

Xinhua,November 30, 2017 Adjust font size:

ZAGREB, Nov. 29 (Xinhua) -- The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on Wednesday upheld the prison sentences for 6 Bosnian Croats charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the 1990s Balkan wars, but also witnessed an unprecedented scene when one of the defendants committed suicide in the courtroom by drinking a bottle containing poison.

In Wednesday's appeals process, while the judges were handing down their final verdict, upholding the sentence of 20 years in prison for a 72-year-old commander of the ethnic Croat troops in the 1992-1995 war, the defendant suddenly stood up and yelled: "Judges, Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal. I reject the verdict with contempt."

The scene at the UN war crimes court was live streaming through Croatian TV channels.

Praljak then drank from a small glass bottle in the courtroom and loudly announced that what he drank was poison. He was rushed to hospital and died three hours later, Croatian media quoted the spokesperson of ICTY Nenad Golcevski as saying.

Praljak was a former assistant Minister of Defense of Croatia and during the Bosnian War he was commander of the Main Staff of the HVO, the Croatian Defense Council, the official military formation of the Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia, an unrecognized wartime entity that existed in Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1991 and 1994.

In the appeal, the judges also confirmed a 25-year prison term against Jadranko Prlic, the former prime minister of a breakaway Bosnian Croat statelet, a 20-year term for its former defense minister Bruno Stojic, also a 20-year term for a former militia head Milivoj Petkovic, a 16-year term to former commander of Bosnian Croat military police Valentin Coric and a 10-year term for Berislav Pusic, ex-head of prisoner exchanges and detention facilities.

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. In a new ruling, the judges allowed part of Praljak's appeal, saying the bridge had been a legitimate military target during the conflict. They also had overturned some of his convictions, but refused to reduce his overall sentence.

The bloody 1992-1995 war in Bosnia, in which 100,000 people died and 2.2 million were displaced, mainly pitted Bosnian Muslims against Bosnian Serbs, but also saw brutal fighting between Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats after an initial alliance fell apart.

The six defendants voluntarily surrendered themselves to the tribunal's custody in 2004. The trial, which began in 2006, was the tribunal's longest running case.

The case has been keenly watched in Zagreb. Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who abruptly returned from an EU-Africa summit in Abidjan, voiced dissatisfaction with the verdict.

Plenkovic said that the verdict "erroneously" alludes to the role of Croatia's state leadership in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina because the facts relating to the allegation of a joint criminal enterprise were not taken into account.

"The state leadership had nothing to do with the facts and interpretations in the verdict," Plenkovic said.

He also extended his deepest sympathy to Slobodan Praljak's family as well as to the families of victims of all crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the 1992-1995 war.

As for Praljak, the prime minister said, "his act during the announcement of the verdict by the Appeals Chamber, when he took his own life, speaks the most of deep moral injustice towards the six Croats from Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Croatian people." Enditem