Bosnian Croat war criminal ‘drank cyanide’ before death

Slobodan Praljak (72) died after conviction upheld at tribunal for the former Yugoslavia

Former Bosnian Croat commander Slobodan Praljak died on Wednesday after he “drank poison” seconds after UN appeals judges upheld his 20-year sentence for war crimes against Bosnian Muslims. Video: Reuters


Bosnian Croat war crimes convict Slobodan Praljak used cyanide to kill himself in court after losing his appeal, according to preliminary postmortem findings, Dutch prosecutors have said.

Praljak (72) announced he had taken poison immediately after his conviction and 20-year sentence for ethnic cleansing were upheld by appeals judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on Wednesday. He died shortly afterwards.

In a statement, prosecutors said a toxicological test had found that Praljak “had a concentration of potassium cyanide in his blood”.

“This resulted in a failure of the heart, which is indicated as the suspected cause of death,” they added.

The tribunal on Friday said it had started its own independent review into the death.

Praljak’s suicide came in the final minutes of the last verdict at the court before it closes later this month.

“I just drank poison,” the ex-general told the stunned court in a hearing that was being broadcast online. “I am not a war criminal. I oppose this conviction.”

Prosecutors said they were focusing their investigation on how Praljak had managed to obtain a banned substance in the high-security UN building.

Ethnic Croat

Praljak was a producer in theatre, film and television before joining Croatia’s military at the start of its war of independence from Yugoslavia and later leading ethnic Croat forces in Bosnia.

The court upheld convictions of Praljak and five other former Bosnian Croat politicians and military officers, for subjecting Bosnian Muslims to ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity including murder and rape.

They were all senior figures in Herceg-Bosna, an unrecognised Bosnian Croat region whose troops initially sided with Bosnian Muslims in their battle with the Belgrade-controlled Yugoslav army and Bosnian Serb forces.

From late 1992 to early 1994, however, Bosnia’s Croats and Muslims also clashed with each other, in fighting that claimed several thousand lives.

The historic city of Mostar was the epicentre of this “war within a war”, and it became divided along ethnic lines and witnessed the destruction of its famous 16th-century Ottoman bridge, which Croat tank shells sent plunging into the Neretva river.