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Russian army non-combat deaths up

Russian soldiers parade in Red Square in Moscow (9 May 2006)
Conditions are notoriously harsh for new recruits in the Russian army

Russia's defence ministry has confirmed a report saying the armed forces lost 471 service personnel to non-combat deaths in 2008, 30 more than in 2007.

By far the largest single cause was suicide, accounting for 231 deaths.

The number of suicides is down by just under a third compared to 2007, but correspondents say the picture of life within the armed forces remains grim.

Bullying, often extremely violent, is rife among Russian troops and is the most common reason for suicide.

In May, chief military prosecutor Sergei Fridinsky said the numbers of suicides were worrying and called for a national strategy to prepare men for service.

Conscription

The Russian defence ministry confirmed on its website on Monday that in 2008, 471 military personnel died in non-combat incidents.

In addition to the 231 deaths resulting from suicides, a further 121 were caused by accidents, 19 by the mishandling of weapons, while 26 personnel were murdered or died as a result of "negligence".

After the publication of the official figures, the Soldiers' Mothers Committee of Russia told Ekho Moskvy radio it was convinced the real number of deaths was several times higher.

The BBC's James Rodgers in Moscow says Russia's recent military reputation may be built on its conflict with Georgia over South Ossetia, or its high-profile plans to strengthen ties with countries in Latin America - but these figures show a different side of the army.

Bullying continues to be rife and is likely to be a factor in many of the suicides, our correspondent says.

Most Russian soldiers are conscripts, although the dangers and hardship of life in the armed forces even in peacetime make many men keen to avoid service, he adds.

The Russian military has an estimated 1.2 million uniformed personnel. All male citizens between 18 and 27 must serve at least 12 months.

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