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Thursday, 15 August, 2002, 10:28 GMT 11:28 UK
Belgium checks 'Toy Army' claims
A soldier gives a salute during the parade
The parade took place on Belgium's independence day
The Belgian Defence Minister, Andre Flahaut, has ordered an investigation after reports that soldiers were carrying fake guns during the country's annual military parade.

Andre Flahaut at the controls of a Russian military aircraft
Flahaut: Parade should showcase real guns
Reports in the Belgian media say fake guns are popular with some troops because they require less maintenance.

But critics say the practice raises the spectre of a toy army.

The Belgian armed forces use fake guns for some purposes, but are not supposed to use them on official duties, such as the 21 July independence day parade.

"We should not use those guns. It is not in line with orders," said Mr Flahaut.

However, army union spokesman Emanuel Jacob said it had been the practice for years to use the fake guns on occasions such as the annual parade.

"The defence minister perhaps should not have reacted in this way," he said.

Paperwork

"He should rather act on matters of higher priority within the armed forces."


It is more a sign of commonsense than laziness

Opposition parliamentarian Danny Pieters
Another army union spokesperson confirmed that soldiers of the medical battalion - except for officers - were carrying fake guns for the parade.

The artificial guns not only need less maintenance, but involve less paperwork, as no licence is required to carry them.

Opposition parliamentarian Danny Pieters said he approved of the use of fake guns except in dangerous situations.

"It is more a sign of commonsense than laziness," he said.

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