Yugoslavian war criminal 'takes poison' to end hearing at United Nations court

Seconds after his war crimes sentence of 20 years was upheld at the worldwide criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Slobodan Praljak, shouted out angrily: "Praljak is not a criminal".

Praljak, 72, 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.

Hearing resumed after a few hours amid confusion and presiding judge Carmel Agius revealed that Dutch authorities had already launched an investigation into the case. His lawyer said it was poison. Shortly after the verdict confirming his 20-year jail sentence is read out, Praljak stands and says - through translators - "Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal, I am rejecting the court ruling", before raising a small container to his lips.

The television quoted sources close to Praljak as saying he died in a hospital in The Hague.

The conflict mainly saw Bosnian Muslims fighting Bosnian Serbs, but there were also deadly clashes involving Bosnian Muslims and Croats after an alliance fell apart.

It was confirmed later by Croatian prime minister Andrej Plenković that Praljak had died.

Moments later ambulance crews arrived at the scene and a helicopter began hovering overhead. "I oppose this conviction", Praljak said, according to Reuters.

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Praljak was a former assistant minister of defense of Croatia, and later commander of the main staff of the former Croatian Defense Council, a militia operating in Bosnia.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague itself became a crime scene on Wednesday when a convicted war criminal committed suicide with poison he had smuggled into the courtroom.

Mr Fila said: "They inspect metal objects, like belts, metal money, shoes, and take away mobile phones".

It is not the first time that defendants have taken their own lives at the ICTY.

The ICTY closes its doors on December 31, having indicted and dealt with 161 people.

A 20-year term was upheld against former military leader Milivoj Petkovic, 68, while a 16-year sentence was confirmed against ex-military police chief Valentin Coric, 61, and and 10 years for former police official Berislav Pusic, 65.

Zagreb has also expressed anger at the United Nations judges for upholding a finding that the late Croat president Franjo Tudman was part of a plan to create a ministate in Bosnia. The six surrendered with Croatia under pressure to comply with the court in return for joining the European Union.