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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May, 2005, 05:17 GMT 06:17 UK
Calls to end Chile conscription
Chilean soldiers search for colleagues lost in a blizzard
Relatives accuse Chilean officers of abandoning conscripts
Presidential candidates in Chile have called for an end to compulsory military service after as many as 45 soldiers were killed in a blizzard.

Twenty-six bodies have been found so far, but officers say there is little hope of finding the other 19 alive.

All but one of the 45 were young men conscripted to serve for a year.

The first funerals for victims were held on Sunday as Chile remained gripped by the tragedy and held three days of national mourning.

Following the disaster, which took place last week during a march in the lower reaches of the Andes Mountains, the presidential candidate and former Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear said she would scrap compulsory military service if she was elected.

She said there was no need to force young men to serve their country when career soldiers could be attracted through better pay and conditions.

The officer just let 28 kids fall and went on to the shelter
Gloria Bastias, victim's mother

The BBC's Clinton Porteus in Santiago says the call appears to have struck a chord and two other presidential candidates indicated they would do the same.

Some parents of victims have accused army officers of deserting their men and leaving conscripts to die in the snow. Three officers have already been sacked and two separate investigations are under way into why the march went ahead, in threatening weather, and why so many people died.

Military and civilian investigations have also been launched.

'Neglected'

A total of 433 troops were on the slopes of the Antuco volcano in the Los Barros range, about 600km (360 miles) south-east of Santiago when the snowstorm struck.

Chilean general presents relative of a dead soldier with a Chilean flag
Most of those who died were conscripts
Most of the soldiers managed to find their way out or were later found safe.

President Ricardo Lagos attended a memorial service for 13 of the dead who lay in flag-draped coffins at a nearby army base in the southern city of Los Angeles.

Grieving relatives said the conscripts had been neglected by the officers who were supposed to look after them.

"My son and his companions were abandoned by the officers," Reuters quoted Gloria Bastias, who son Jonathan is among those believed dead, as saying.

"They were coming down together in a group and people were falling. The officer just let 28 kids fall and went on to the shelter."

"These are the heroes," Edmundo Vivanco, uncle of one of the dead soldiers, said at the service, quoted by Reuters news agency. "The miserable villains are the officers that lived."



SEE ALSO:
In pictures: Chilean army tragedy
21 May 05 |  In Pictures
Chilean troops in 'snow tsunami'
20 May 05 |  Americas
Foreign climbers die in Andes
23 Jul 03 |  Americas
Country profile: Chile
26 Mar 05 |  Country profiles


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