Britons flock to fight in Bosnia

The Independent
10 February 1993 (front page)
By Steve Boggan

Thousands of ex-soldiers and ‘untrained idiots and psychopaths’ said to be serving as mercenaries with all three sides

THOUSANDS of Britons, including ex-servicemen, boy adventurers and “untrained idiots and psychopaths” may be fighting in the former Yugoslavia, according to Whitehall sources and the editor of a specialist magazine.

Officially, the Foreign Office says it has no figures for British mercenaries in the conflict, but sources said concern is mounting that Britons have enlisted on all three sides and could find themselves fighting each other.

Arrangements were being made yesterday to bring home the bodies of Ted Skinner and Derek Arnold, kidnapped, tortured and shot near Travnik after fighting for the Bosnian Muslims. There are fears that their deaths – thought to take the total British dead to five – may be among the first of many.

A Foreign Office spokesman said yesterday the number of Britons serving with the Croats, Serbs and Muslims was “substantial” but David Lord, editor of Combat and Survival and a former army officer, said that the evidence suggested “thousands”.

“The amount of mail I am receiving from British men fighting in the area is astonishing,” he said. “Our correspondents have found large groups of men fighting in Royal Marine and Parachute Regiment berets. They have also found members of the TA, soldiers who are absent without leave and large numbers of untrained idiots and psychopaths.

“Usually when you get a war, it is comfortably far away, but this is on the doorstep, it is easy to get to and it has attracted a very large idiot element who don’t know what they are letting themselves in for.”

One Whitehall source said the figure of thousands “could well be right. We know that most of the British have signed up with the Croatians, who have very quickly set up a large army with tanks and artillery. They have got some men from the Yugoslavian army but they have had to use a lot of expertise from outside.

“They value soldiers with experience in Northern Ireland and so they have attracted a lot of ex-servicemen. There are also some fighting with the Muslims and a few with the Serbs.”

The source said ministers have been perturbed, but no restrictions could be imposed on people leaving Britain. “The law forbids advertising for mercenaries, but that has not been necessary because of the publicity the conflict has received,” he said.

Reports flooded in yesterday of other Britons – even schoolboys – who had taken up arms. Few are paid more than a few dollars a month. One of them, Bob Stephenson, a former serviceman who was wounded fighting in Bosnia last year, said he had been asked by a Bosnian officer to put together a squad of former soldiers to return to the country. They were arrested in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, on 24 January before fleeing home.

He said: “I now really fear for the UN forces over there, and for the mercenaries even more. A lot of people, British people, are going to die.”

Details emerged yesterday of Ted Skinner, 38, one of the two mercenaries who were killed last week, but it is understood the Foreign Office has failed to trace any relatives of Derek Arnold. Both men were kidnapped from their flat near Travnik, six miles west of the British UN force’s base in Vitez. They were bound, tortured and shot in the head.

Reports yesterday said they had given the British forces intelligence about Muslim operations in which they were involved, something to which Mujahedin mercenaries fighting alongside them might have taken exception.

In an interview last year, Ted Skinner, of Chester, who claimed to have served with the Australian and British armies for 15 years, said he was fighting to support the Bosnian people – earning only a few pounds a week.

This article is also available on The Independent website.

The version on the website ends with a paragraph omitted from the printed version:

Explaining his involvement in the conflict, Skinner said in television interview screened by ITN last night: ‘Bosnia is a small country being kicked over by everybody. It’s being attacked, invaded, its people are being pushed out of their houses, they’re being systematically killed and it needs help.’

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Two Britons tortured and killed in Bosnia

The Independent
9 February 1993
By Christopher Bellamy and Annika Savill

Two British “advisers” to the Muslim forces in central Bosnia have been found tortured and murdered after being kidnapped from their lodgings, British officials said yesterday.

Bosnian Muslim forces found the two men, who have not yet been named pending notification of next-of-kin, in the small town of Turbe, west of Travnik, on Friday.

“It appears they were taken from their flat in Turbe during the night, tied up, tortured and then shot in the head,” said Major Martin Waters, the spokesman at the Army headquarters in Vitez.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman added: “Our people in Vitez have seen the bodies. They were bound. We cannot speculate on who did it, and why.” Local sources say the deaths were “awfully nasty”.

Both men claimed to have served with the Army in the past and one held the rank of captain. But an Army source said that the men’s names did not tie up with the regiments in which they were alleged to have served.

Last night confusion surrounded the real role that the two men, aged 37 and 43, had played in Bosnia. They were known to the British UN forces based at nearby Vitez, who were called to identify them, but they had no official connection with the British presence.

Some British military sources, citing British UN soldiers who knew them in Bosnia, said the two were advising Muslim forces on “military-medical matters”. However, according to one report, one had been filmed training the Muslims in unarmed combat, including the way to garrotte enemies – although that may have been a show of bravado for the cameras. “It is impossible to say whether they were angels of mercy or dogs of war,” said one British official.

Archie Hamilton, Minister of State for the Armed Forces, who was visiting Bosnia at the weekend, sought to persuade journalists to write about the fate of the two men as a way of deterring otherBritons from joining mercenaries there, British diplomats said.

One of the men said last year that he was paid no money, only food and board. He said he had informal contacts with British soldiers of the Cheshire Regiment, and criticised British mercenaries who became involved in the fighting for the sake of adventure.

Few records exist of the British, Germans, French and Arab volunteers who have joined the fighting against the Serbs in the former Yugoslavia, last year in Croatia and now in Bosnia.

The Foreign Office was last night seeking to track down next-of-kin, but the process was slowed because the men’s passports containing dates of birth had to be retrieved from the police station at Zenica, a large town near Turbe.

At the moment Turbe, a Muslim town, lies in a Muslim-controlled area. Some local militia sources claim the murderers were mujahedin mercenaries who arrived recently in the front-line area around Travnik. The local Muslim command was said to be angry and upset over the killings, which took place on their territory where they said the men should have been safe. However, the area is lawless.