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Thousands of British mercenaries could be fighting in former Yugoslav republics, many earning little or no money but joining local armed groups out of moral conviction or simply for the thrill of war, The Independent reported this week.

The British men have been fighting on all three sides in the conflicts in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and they include "ex-servicemen, boy adventurers, untrained idiots and psychopaths," the report said.The report came after two British mercenaries who had been training Muslim fighters in Bosnia were found tortured and killed.

"Our correspondents have found large groups of men fighting in Royal Marine and Parachute Regiment berets, also members of the Territorial Army, soldiers who are absent without leave and large numbers of untrained idiots and psychopaths," David Lord, editor of the specialist magazine Combat and Survival, told the In-de-pen-dent.

He said the war had "attracted a very large idiot element who don't know what they are letting themselves in for."

Lord said there could be thousands of mercenaries in former Yugoslavia, and although the Foreign Office has no figures for British men involved in the fighting a Whitehall source told the Independent "the figure of thousands could well be right."

"The amount of mail I am receiving from British men fighting in the area is astonishing."

The tortured bodies of British mercenaries Ted Skinner and Derek Arnold, who had been working with Bosnian Muslims, were found last week in Turbe, about 6 miles from where British forces in the U.N. peacekeeping troops are based at Vitez.

The Independent said other British fighters had already died in former Yugoslav republics.