Defense Minister Supports Alternative Military Service

YEREVAN (Armenpress)–During the round-table discussion dedicated to the issues of army and military service held at Tekeyan center on June 20–Armenian Defense Minister Serge Sarkissian said–"After the terrorist attacks on September 11–2001 there were no changes in Armenia’s foreign policy. Favorable conditions have been created for us as we never tried to profit from opposition between the superpowers."

According to him–Armenia’s never oppose Armenian-Russian relations to Armenian-American relations. "In contrast to our neighbors–we did not rush to NATO but tried to participate in NATO’s programs and always announced that the presence of Russian unit in Armenia is not an obstacle for Armenia-Europe relations," stressed Sarkissian. According to his evaluation–the major component of security of Armenia is the Armenian army–then Armenian-Russian military and comprehensive relations within the framework of Collective Security Treaty as well as Armenia-NATO–and Armenia-USA cooperations

The defense minister also said that official Yerevan has good relations with NATO member Greece and–having deep relations with Russia–must try to use all available opportunities to strengthen the security of Armenia.

During the round-table discussion the Armenian defense minister also gave a heavy backing to introduction of alternative military service. As a keynote speaker at round table discussions–dedicated to this sensitive issue–Sarkisian said a special team of experts led by deputy defense minister are working now on designing the appropriate bill.

"If a person does not want or cannot serve in the armed forces because his religion does not allow him to do it–this person becomes a burden for the army and a target for enemy," Sarkisian said–adding that the health and other requiremen’s for the conscripts have become tougher in the last two years–as "soldiers with physical disorders are also a burden for the army."

Sarkisian went on to say that the alternative service cannot be equaled with ordinary military service and its term should be longer–up to 4 years–instead of a 24 month-long military service. The minister also said that soldiers of the alternative service must wear a different uniform and be subject to a different statutes. This–according to Sarkisian–will reduce the number of young men who would like to take up alternative service instead of the usual one. Sarkisian said the elaborated bill on alternative service will be sent to parliament consideration in autumn and most probably it would go through in 2003.

According to law-enforcement agencies–there are now 1000 Armenia’s who fled the country so as not to serve in the army.

Sarkisian also backed the idea of building a professional army–but said there are almost no chances to move to it in the coming 15 years–as "a professional army requires huge financial means," which the country cannot afford.

The Armenian army is regarded as the most efficient not only in the region but in the entire post-Soviet territory having gained huge experience in the war with neighboring Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh.

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