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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 December 2004, 11:53 GMT
Belarusian army launches Christmas sale
By Tatyana Nechapayka
For BBCRussian.com

Accordion (picture from Belarusian Defence Ministry site voentorg.by)
Instruments on sale are from the propaganda department's stores

The Belarusian Defence Ministry has announced a major sale to clear its stores of old equipment.

The internet site of its commercial department is offering anything from heavy trucks to accordions at rock bottom prices.

The price list includes such items as parachutes, all kinds of military fatigues, ice hockey boots, portable power generators, tents, shoe-making machines, electric guitars, cameras and slide projectors.

Soviet-style army winter coats cost around $17 (8) and a fur-hat is worth less than half a dollar.

"The army is getting rid of the Soviet junk," says retired Col Vasyl Zdanyuk.

"All the slide projectors, tape recorders and musical instruments are from the propaganda department stores. They are completely obsolete. If there are people who want to buy this stuff, let them do so."

More up-to-date pieces of military equipment have already been sold, say high-ranking US officials, who have repeatedly accused the Belarusian authorities of selling arms to such regimes as that of Saddam Hussein.

Accordion (picture from Belarusian Defence Ministry site voentorg.by)
Some of the old equipment could be of interest for collectors
But announcing this Christmas sale, the defence ministry warns that the equipment on offer cannot be used for military purposes. So, for instance, the drums being sold among other musical instruments should not be used as drums of war, local journalists joke.

Retired Gen Valery Frolov, a former deputy of the Belarusian parliament, laments the loss of leisure equipment in barracks.

"When I served as a soldier, each company possessed its own accordion and guitar. What a pleasure it was to have them during military games! But now there are either less military games or soldiers are more interested in watching TV," he says.

Farm help

The Belarusian army suffers from extremely poor funding and has to find unorthodox ways for filling its budget.

Retiring officers are offered military trucks in place of redundancy payments and some officers were given thermal underwear and leather boots as salaries.

"If there is such a sale, then things must be pretty miserable," says the leader of the opposition Social-Democratic Party, retired Gen Mechislav Hrib.

He notes that previously the defence ministry would give old equipment to collective farms. However, this year the ministry had to give around 200m Belarusian roubles ($100,000 or 51,702) to a farm in the Magilau region.

This was done in accordance with a decree by President Aleksandr Lukashenko, a former collective farm director. The decree makes each ministry responsible for a particular collective farms' well-being.

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