Praljak drank cyanide in court
The UN judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague had just upheld his 20-year sentence when the former Croatian general drank from a small bottle and proclaimed: “I am not a war criminal. I oppose this conviction.”
The courtroom was declared a crime scene.
Prosecutors said Praljak had a “concentration of potassium cyanide in his blood”.
The 72-year-old was convicted in 2013 of crimes including murder, persecution and deportation for his role in the attempt to create a Bosnian-Croat statelet in Bosnia in the early 1990s during the civil war.
Prlic had been found guilty of being part of a criminal enterprise by the Croat government of late president Franjo Tudjman to form an ethnically pure state.
The city of Mostar saw some of the fiercest fighting.
The court found that Praljak had failed to make any serious efforts to stop his troops rounding up Muslims in the summer of 1993.
He also failed to act on information that murders were being planned, as well as attacks on members of international organisations and the destruction of Mostar’s famous Old Bridge and its mosques.
The ICTY did allow part of Praljak’s appeal, finding that Mostar’s bridge had been a “military target at the time of the attack”.
Bosnian Muslims were using the Ottoman-era bridge to move ammunition, so the judges decided that, although the Croatian actions were excessive, the bridge was a legitimate military target.
Before the war, Praljak was educated as an electrical engineer and worked as a theatre director in Zagreb and Osijek in Croatia and in Bosnia. He also worked in television.
He gained attention when conflict started in 1991 after forming a volunteer unit of “intellectuals” from the arts. He was soon promoted to major general and because of his Bosnian heritage was sent back to his homeland.
The jovial general would quote Dostoevsky and Chekhov and spoke of protecting Croatia from “Serbian and Muslim aggressors” as a “real patriot”.
In Bosnia, Dragan Covic, the Croat member of the tripartite presidency, said Praljak’s suicide showed “what sacrifice he was ready to make” to show he was not a war criminal.
Around 1,000 Bosnian Croats gathered in a Mostar square during the week to light candles in memory of the war leader.
The rebuilt Mostar bridge. Picture credit: PXHere