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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 November, 2004, 16:53 GMT
Russian army off-duty deaths rise
Russian soldiers in Beslan in September
Russian officials say they have the bullying problem under control
More members of Russia's armed services committed suicide or died in accidents than in the line of duty this year, the government has admitted.

More than 500 servicemen have died off duty, about 25% as a result of suicide, Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said.

This compared with 423 killed on duty, almost a third in Chechnya, he said.

Correspondents say the armed service can be very tough, especially for conscripts. Rights groups complain of a ritual of organised bullying.

Mr Ivanov said more than 900 servicemen had died already this year.

In the first nine months of this year, 148 were killed in Chechnya. This compared with 291 in 2003, and 499 in 2001.

He said the reduced number of dead in Chechnya reflected a move towards using fewer conscripts and more professional troops in combat situations.

'Horrific violence'

Mr Ivanov said 509 died while off duty, including those "killed in crimes committed by civilians", he was quoted by Russia's Interfax news agency as saying.

One quarter killed themselves, 11% died in "breaches of safety", and 9% died in transport or traffic accidents, he said at a meeting of the armed forces' leadership.

"I ask that every effort be made to... correct this situation and guarantee an improved level of safety in military service," he reportedly told the military leaders.

In October, Human Rights Watch published a detailed study of what it called "horrific violence" against new conscripts in the Russian army.

The international organisation highlighted a ritual of organised bullying known as "dedovshchina", which allegedly involves senior soldiers being able to treat juniors as little more than slaves.

The report claimed hundreds of soldiers were killed or committed suicide as a result. Tens of thousands ran away, while thousands more were left physically and or mentally scarred.

But the report was dismissed as biased and based on outdated misconceptions by the office of Russia's chief military prosecutor.

The office did not deny there was a problem with bullying and abuse in the army, but insisted the military was tackling the issue, protecting soldiers' rights.


SEE ALSO:
Death rate high in Russian army
13 Sep 03 |  Europe


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