War criminal Slobodan Praljak dies after taking poison in court

He told the court: "I am not a war criminal, I oppose this conviction"

War criminal Slobodan Praljak dies after taking poison in court

Slobodan Praljak enters the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands. Picture by: Robin van Lonkhuijsen/AP/Press Association Images

Updated: 19.20

War criminal Slobodan Praljak has died in hospital after drinking what he claimed to be poison during a court appearance, Croatia's prime minister has confirmed.

The former Croatian army chief drank from a small bottle and yelled "I am not a war criminal, I oppose this conviction" when his 20-year sentence was upheld by UN judges at The Hague.

The events, which was broadcast on a video feed, forced the judges to temporarily suspend the hearing, with paramedics seen entering the courtroom.

The hearing resumed a few hours later, with presiding judge Carmel Aguis saying: "Courtroom one is now a crime scene."

Dutch police say they are investigating.

Praljak was convicted of involvement in a campaign to drive Muslims out of Bosnia and create an ethnically pure Croat state during the Bosnian war in the 1990s sparked by the break-up of Yugoslavia.

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.

A total of 100,000 people died and 2.2 million were displaced in the three-year war.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said: "We have all unfortunately witnessed his act by which he took his own life."

He said Praljak's course of action reflects the "deep moral injustice" suffered by six Bosnian Croats who unsuccessfully appealed against their convictions at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Some of Paljak's convictions were overturned, but the judge left his sentence unchanged.

Slobodan Praljak enters the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands to hear the verdict in the appeals case | Image: Robin van Lonkhuijsen/AP/Press Association Images

The six includes former defence minister Jadranko Prlic, whose 25-year sentence for involvement in the campaign to create an ethnically pure state was upheld.

The court last week convicted former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic of genocide.

Croatia claims it has "clean hands" over the 1992-95 war in Bosnia and wanted the decision overturned.

Zagreb has also expressed anger at the UN judges for upholding a finding that the late Croat president Franjo Tudman was part of a plan to create a ministate in Bosnia.

Tudjman's son, Miroslav, said Praljak's move was a "consequence of his moral position not to accept the verdict that has nothing to do with justice or reality".

The remaining three suspects - Milivoj Petkovic (68), Valentin Coric (61) and Berislav Pusic (65) - had their sentences confirmed.

The court, established by the UN in 1993, is due to close when its mandate expires at the end of this year. It has indicted 161 suspects, of which 90 have been convicted.