War criminal took cyanide in UN court, say Dutch prosecutors

The Hague: A former Bosnian Croat war criminal died of heart failure after taking potassium cyanide in front of UN judges at the courtroom here, Dutch prosecutors said citing preliminary postmortem examination results.

The results of the toxicological test showed Slobodan Praljak had a concentration of potassium cyanide in his blood. This resulted in a failure of the heart which is pointed out as the suspected cause of death,  they said.

Prosecutors are now examining how Praljak managed to smuggle in the poison.

Praljak, 72, drank potassium cyanide from a vial soon after the UN court upheld his 20-year jail sentence for crimes during the Bosnian war. First he yelled, “I am not a war criminal! I oppose this conviction!” Then he raised the vial to his lips, drank from it and said he had taken poison.

Presiding Judge Carmel Aguis immediately suspended the proceedings and called Dutch emergency services. An ambulance soon arrived and paramedics entered the courtroom. Praljak was rushed to a hospital in The Hague where he died .

Praljak, a former commander in the Bosnian war, was sentenced to 20 years for ordering the destruction of Mostar’s 16th-century bridge in November 1993 which, according to judges, “caused disproportionate damage to the Muslim civilian population”.

Wednesday’s ruling marked the end of a long legal procedure after the tribunal was set in 1993 to prosecute people involved in Balkan atrocities.

Last week, the tribunal convicted former Bosnian Serb military chief General Ratko Mladić of genocide and other crimes. Mladić, who had high blood pressure, created drama by yelling at the judge. He was removed from court and the ruling was delivered in his absence.