War criminal Slobodan Praljak dies after drinking poison in court

UN war crimes defendant claims to have taken poison in court

As Slobodan Praljak listened to his sentence of 20 years, he raised a small bottle to his lips in full view of the camera crew and shouted, "I am not a war criminal, I reject the verdict with contempt!"

A United Nations war crimes appeal trial was suspended on Wednesday after a former Croatian general claimed to have drank poison upon being sentenced to 20 years in jail.

Tribunal spokesman Nenad Golcevski, when asked by AP if he could confirm the death, said: "I have no information to share at this point".

Judge Carmel Agius, who had urged the defendant to sit down, put a halt to the hearing as calls were made for an ambulance.

According to Croatian State Agency HINA, a helicopter has been sent for Praljak. If tests confirm the liquid was poison, officials will likely face questions about how Praljak managed to smuggle it into the courtroom. Judges did overturn some of his convictions, but refused to reduce his overall sentence. "Defense minister" Bruno Stojic was sentenced to 20 years.

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Praljak was convicted for his actions between 1992 and 1994, including the rape and murder of Bosnian Muslims in the wake of the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia.

The dramatic incident happened during an appeal hearing at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Set up by mandate of the UN Security Council in 1993, the ICTY is due to close when its mandate expires at the end of the year.

The original trial began in April 2006 and provided a reminder of the complex web of ethnic tensions that fueled fighting in Bosnia and continues to create frictions in the country even today.

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