Bosnian Croats mourn war criminal as Dutch investigate his courtroom suicide

Croatian president calls for reconciliation and criticises UN tribunal

A Bosnian Croat woman lights a candle for convicted general Slobodan Praljak, who killed himself seconds after the verdict in the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photograph: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

A Bosnian Croat woman lights a candle for convicted general Slobodan Praljak, who killed himself seconds after the verdict in the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photograph: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

 

Bosnian Croats have honoured war criminal Slobodan Praljak after he took a deadly draft of poison in a UN tribunal in The Netherlands, where investigators are trying to establish how he slipped the chemical into the high security courtroom.

Gen Praljak (72) died on Wednesday after the court upheld his 20-year jail sentence for subjecting Bosnian Muslims to crimes against humanity during Bosnia’s 1992-5 war, when he was the commander of Bosnian Croat forces

“Listen, Slobodan Praljak is not a war criminal. I reject your judgment,” he declared, before appearing to drink the contents of a small glass bottle and telling the judge: “I have taken poison.”

Vincent Veenman, a spokesman for the public prosecutor in The Hague, said preliminary tests showed that the cause of death was “drinking a liquid that can kill...We cannot yet say what that substance was. Further testing is needed.”

Dutch prosecutor Marilyn Fikenscher said analysis had shown that the object that Gen Praljak drank from contained “a chemical substance...that can cause death”.

In the Bosnian city of Mostar, which was badly damaged during 1992-4 fighting between local Muslim and Croat forces, hundreds of people gathered to light candles for Gen Praljak and filled the city’s Catholic cathedral for a Mass in his memory on Wednesday evening.

‘Sacrifice’

Bosnian Croat leader Dragan Covic said Gen Praljak had “showed before the whole world what kind of sacrifice he was ready to make to prove that he was not a war criminal”.

Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic cut short a visit to Iceland and returned to Zagreb, where in an address on Thursday she said Gen Praljak “was a man who would rather give his own life than live as someone convicted for acts that he firmly believed he did not commit”.

“His act struck deeply at the heart of the Croatian people, and left grave doubts over whether the international tribunal for former Yugoslavia fulfilled its task,” she added.

Ethical cleansing

Gen Praljak killed himself during the last hearing in the UN court’s 24-year history, and Ms Grabar-Kitarovic rejected its ruling that Croatia’s wartime leadership formed a “joint criminal enterprise” with Bosnian Croat leaders of the time to ethnically cleanse Bosnian Muslims, who are also known as Bosniaks.

She accused the court of failing to pass proper judgment on the Serb aggression that sparked the Balkans wars of the 1990s, but acknowledged that “some of our fellow compatriots in Bosnia committed crimes and they have to be held responsible for them”.

“Everyone in Bosnia, and especially Croats and Bosniaks...must rise above this for the good of both nations,” Ms Grabar-Kitarovic added.

“As Croatian president, I will do everything to ensure that this verdict does not damage the Croatian-Bosniak relationship, and I will pay an official visit to Bosnia very soon.”

On Wednesday, the court upheld the convictions Gen Praljak and five other former Bosnian Croat politicians and military officers for committing war crimes including murder and rape against Bosniaks, and confirmed sentences amounting to 111 years in jail.