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Aid Fortifies Thugs In Bosnian Town, Group Says Suspected Serb War Criminals Profit From Help, Human Rights Watch Claims

International donors have pumped more than $3 million in reconstruction aid into a Bosnian Serb town run by a rogues’ gallery of suspected war criminals, conferring a semblance of respectability on town leaders and undercutting investigations by the U.N. war crimes tribunal, a watchdog group says.

In a 70-page report, Human Rights Watch says the mayor, deputy mayor, police chief, hospital director and director of a local organization claiming to be the Red Cross were all deeply implicated in “ethnic cleansing” in Prijedor, a town in northwestern Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Although none of the five has been indicted for war crimes, most are under investigation by the tribunal and all have been cited in U.N. reports on wartime atrocities.

The report says the municipal officials “got away with their crimes and became rich men in the process, having expropriated businesses, homes and other assets of the nonSerbs of the community, estimated to be worth several billion” German marks.

“The architects of ethnic cleansing … interact daily with representatives of international organizations,” the report says. “This contact grants them a wholly undeserved legitimacy, given that they achieved their positions by ‘disappearing’ the duly elected mayor of the town, Muhamed Cehajic, believed killed on July 26, 1992, and thousands of other (non-Serbian) community leaders and citizens.”

Human Rights Watch has called on international organizations, especially aid groups, to break off contact with Prijedor officials and end assistance programs unless there is a guarantee that none of the money will find its way into the pockets of the town leaders.

The report says millions of dollars in aid have been invested in Prijedor since the signing of the Dayton accord. Much of the money was skimmed by town authorities through methods such as direct pressure on aid-givers to do business with companies controlled by the municipal leaders, according to Human Rights Watch.

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