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Last Updated: Monday, 17 May, 2004, 13:54 GMT 14:54 UK
Georgia ministers get army orders
By Natalia Antelava
BBC, Tbilisi

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili
Mikhail Saakashvili says reform of the army is a top priority
The Georgian president has ordered his ministers to join the army to learn what military service is all about.

Mikhail Saakashvili says building the strength of the Georgian army is one of his primary goals and that the process should start at the top echelons.

Ministers who skipped the draft in the past have been told to hand over their duties to deputies and spend two months training with army reservists.

Mr Saakashvili himself served in the Soviet army in Kiev.

Sacking threat

For several years, the Georgian army has relied heavily on military aid from the United States.

Since 2001, the US has trained and equipped several Georgian army battalions.

Georgian ministers say they hope to be trained with high-profile troops.

Their reason is clear. The rest of the Georgian army is so impoverished that many young Georgians say they would prefer a jail sentence to the army draft.

For years, those who could afford it, would simply bribe their way out of military service.

But this is not an option for the ministers due to join the army. The president has warned them that anyone who refuses the draft will be sacked.

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