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Yugoslav war tribunal upholds convictions for Bosnian Croats

Bosnian people watch the live TV broadcast from the International Criminal Court for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, November 29, 2017. (AFP photo)

The Croats convicted of crimes against Bosnian Muslims in the war in former Yugoslavia have had their sentences upheld in an international tribunal that is nearing the end of its mission after nearly 25 years.

The appeals chamber at The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) upheld on Wednesday the verdicts given in 2013 to six former high-level politicians and defense officials linked to the wartime Croatian government of late President Franjo Tudjman.

The judges in the tribunal concluded in their ruling that it was not shown that earlier judges in the court had “misinterpreted relevant evidence” of Tudjman and Croatia’s role in the Bosnian conflict.

President Judge Carmel Agius said “all six remain convicted of numerous and very serious crimes,” although some convictions for specific crimes were dropped.

Among the sentences upheld on Wednesday was a 25-year jail term for Jadranko Prlic, a former defense minister, who was a key figure in the slaughter of the Muslims of the 1992-95 war in Bosnia. The Bosnian Croat had been found guilty of helping a criminal enterprise by the then Croatian government to establish an ethnically pure state in Bosnia, something that the current administration in Zagreb had sought to overturn. Croatia maintains that it had “clean hands” in the war.

The hearing Wednesday in The Hague, in the Netherlands, came to a shock end when one of the convicts, Slobodan Praljak, a former Bosnian Croat general, reportedly drank a poison in protest to the upholding of his 20-year jail sentence.

Croatian former General Slobodan Praljak (C) arrives at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) prior to the judgment in his appeal case, along with five other former Bosnian Croat political and military leaders on November 29, 2017 at The Hague international court, in the court's final verdict for war crimes committed during the break-up of Yugoslavia. (AFP photo)

Croatian TV reported that the 72-year-old became angry after the verdicts was read and shouted out, “Praljak is not a criminal. I reject your verdict.”

He then raised a phial of poison to his lips and drank it in the view of the cameras.

“I just drank poison. I am not a war criminal. I oppose this conviction,” he said.

Reports said he later died in the hospital, leading the Dutch police to declare the courtroom to be a crime scene. 

The ICTY, which was established by the United Nations in 1993, is due to close at the end of this year.

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