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Croatian Military Commander Convicted of War Crime Commits Suicide in UN Tribunal

1993 Ahmići massacre of Bosniak civilians is considered to be the largest massacre in the conflict between Croats and Bosnian Muslims.

Image Courtesy: ICTY

The UN court in Hague on Wednesday witnessed dramatic events as Slobodan Praljak drank poison after being sentenced to 20 years on war crime charges.

The 72-year-old ex-commander of Bosnian Croat forces later died in hospital with the UN court announcing that the courtroom was now "a crime scene", the BBC said.

In 2013, he was sentenced for crimes in the city of Mostar during the Bosnian war.

Praljak was one of six former Bosnian Croat political and military leaders up before the ICTY. They were attending the final appeals judgment to be handed down by the court, the BBC report said.

Calming that he was innocent, Praljak stood and raised his hand to his mouth and swallowed a glass of liquid.

Presiding judge Carmel Agius immediately suspended the proceedings and an ambulance was called. "Okay," the judge said. "We suspend the... We suspend... Please, the curtains. Don't take away the glass that he used when he drank something."

An ambulance could later be seen arriving outside the tribunal while a helicopter hovered above the scene. Several emergency rescue workers also rushed into the building carrying equipment in backpacks.

The BBC quoted an ICTY statement as saying Praljak "was immediately assisted by the ICTY medical staff". It said Praljak "was transported to a nearby hospital to receive further medical assistance where he passed away".

The UN tribunal known as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established in 1993 to deal with war crimes that took place during the conflicts in the Balkans in the 1990’s.

Though allies against the Bosnian Serbs in the war, Bosnian Croats and Muslims also fought each other for a period of 11 months, with Mostar seeing some of the fiercest fightings.

In April 1993, Ahmići massacre of Bosniak, considered to be the largest massacre in the conflict between Croats and Bosnian Muslims (Bosniak), led to the killing of around 120 Bosniak civilians. Supported by heavy artillery Croatian military destroyed the village situated in the Lašva Valley, with many civilians shot at point-blank range.

In February 2001, Dario Kordić, the military commander of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) and one of the architects of massacres directed against the Bosniak, was sentenced to 25 years in prison by ICTY.

Meanwhile, Dutch authorities have launched an investigation into how a Bosnian Croat war criminal managed to smuggle poison into a Hague courtroom to kill himself during a televised appeal hearing.

Days earlier, the same court had convicted Ratko Mladic, a Serbian general responsible for the Bosnian genocide, which killed more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslims.

(with inputs from IANS)

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