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Tuesday, 19 June, 2001, 18:16 GMT 19:16 UK
Spain's army fills gaps from abroad
New recruits arrive from Argentinia
Some of the new soldiers have never set foot in Spain
The first of up to 300 recruits to the under-strength Spanish army have arrived in Madrid from Argentina and Uruguay.

The new recruits all have dual nationality, being descendents of Spaniards who emigrated to its former colonies in search of a better life.

But more than half the 72 young people who arrived on Monday ready to swear to defend the Spanish flag had never stepped foot there before.

They are part of a drive by Spain's armed forces to make up numbers after compulsory national service is phased out later this year.

Recruitment drive

A recruitment campaign has been running in several Latin American countries, with 34,000 letters being sent to descendents of Spanish migrants.

New recruits arrive from Argentinia

One of the recruits, Emanuel Bolano, 21, said he had never considered enlisting in Argentina. "But here the military are more serious," he told journalists waiting at Madrid airport.

New recruits are to be paid $500 a month, a big incentive given Argentina's economic troubles.

Rocio Munoz, one of 11 women in the group, said she had come to Spain "to have a better life".

Recruits will go through two months' training before being asked to sign a permanent contract with the army.

But first on their agenda yesterday was a tourist's whirl around Madrid's famous landmarks, organised by the Ministry of Defence.

Smaller core

In common with other European countries, Spain is trying to modernise its armed forces, to leave a smaller but better trained and equipped core.

But not enough Spaniards are keen on a career in the armed services.

With its economy among Europe's fastest growing, young Spaniards are keener on business careers or further education.

The Ministry of Defence says it wants the armed forces total strength to reach 102,000 by the end of this year.

But this would require an almost 33% increase from last year, which military analysts say is optimistic.

As a sign of the military's unease about its troops shortfall, earlier this year it lowered the minimum IQ requirement for new recruits.

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