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Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 15:48 GMT
France salutes end of military service
One of France's last conscripts is decorated
The last 1,000 conscripts are leaving armed forces
Almost a century of French history has come to an end as the country's last conscripts completed their military service.

Around 1,000 young men were being demobbed after their 10-month stint in the armed forces.

The ending of military service marks France's move to a purely professional armed forces. Several other European countries, like Spain, Italy and Portugal, are also phasing it out.

I think that they could have made better use of us

Conscript Philippe Guiffault

Among those coming to an end of their enforced army life were the last 24 men to be conscripted into the 16th Rennes Artillery Unit, based in western France.

The conscripts had contrasting views on their time in the army.

At a ceremony to mark the occasion, Emmanuel Lepine told French La Chaine Info television that he had found it beneficial.

"You can integrate with everyone and different social classes. It's a good thing. Honestly, I think that it was a good experience for me," he said.

But Philippe Guiffault reflected a not uncommon view among conscripts that they could have made better use of their time.

Emmanuel Lepine found service beneficial
Emmanuel Lepine was happy in the ranks

"In light of the duties that we were given, I think that they could have made better use of us," he said.

National service was originally going to be ended next year, but 200,000 young men breathed a sigh of relief in June when it was announced that they would not be called up.

The French Government decided to withdraw the service earlier than planned because it said it had had major successes in recruiting professional soldiers.

However, military experts have said conscripts are expensive to call up and then feed, clothe, house and train, but are of little use in a modern fighting force.

Over the years increasing numbers of young men also refused to do military service and as conscientious objectors opted for a longer civilian service.

Century of service

The modern form of universal national service was introduced in France in 1905 when conscripts had to serve two years in the armed forces.

Philippe Guiffault said they could have done better things
Some conscripts said service was a waste of time

This increased to three years in World War I but was progressively reduced to 10 months and millions of young men were called up down the years.

France's armed forces are expected to comprise 92,500 professionals with another 27,000 participating as national service volunteers by the end of next year.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

See also:

29 Jun 01 | Europe
The death of conscription
16 Nov 00 | Europe
Spanish army goes professional
03 Sep 99 | Europe
Italy to scrap conscription
15 Apr 99 | Africa
Angola starts conscription drive
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