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Monday, 2 April, 2001, 01:19 GMT 02:19 UK
Lebanon relaxes conscription rules
Lebanese army soldiers
Young men who have lived abroad for five years will be exempt from military service
By Kim Ghattas in Beirut

Lebanon has relaxed its rules governing compulsory military service, with young men now exempt from conscription if they have lived abroad for more than five years.

Despite passing a bill to this effect in parliament this week, legislators are not sure yet whether it will indeed have the effect they are hoping for - to stop young Lebanese from emigrating.

Young Lebanese men who are evading mandatory military service will now be able to come home for holidays this summer without being caught.

Inside Lebanon, many young men have already got deferrals by remaining registered in universities.

While the government is ready to make their rules more lenient, it is not ready to consider the alternative of civil service or scrapping the 12-month draft altogether.

Christians and Muslims divided

The Lebanese army is presented as a much needed symbol of national unity.

During the 15-year-long civil war that ended in 1990, the army was split down the line of Muslims and Christians, and many soldiers joined the militia.

Still, many doubt that the military service today is indeed bridging the gap between the different religious and political affiliations.

Some legislators now argue that the new law will encourage even more Lebanese to emigrate, adding to the thousands who are already leaving every month, disillusioned by the economy and the politics of their country.

But in the end, what is needed is not just a weak incentive to stay in Lebanon, but a solution to the problem that is driving young Lebanese away from army duty and from their country.

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See also:

11 Oct 00 | Middle East
Lebanon's uneasy peace
27 Oct 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Lebanon
07 Dec 00 | Middle East
Timeline: Lebanon
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