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Last Updated: Saturday, 28 February, 2004, 01:25 GMT
Army charges for welfare parcels
UK troops on the al-Faw peninsula during the Iraq war
'Stuff from home' keeps troops focused, the veterans' group says
Free postage of parcels to UK troops serving in Iraq will end in a few weeks, the Army has announced.

Friends and family have been able to send parcels of goodies to soldiers for free, but will now have to pay up to 7.23.

Armed Forces minister Adam Ingram said the free scheme was unfair on forces serving in other countries where it did not apply.

Veterans' groups condemned the move, saying it could effect morale.

Mr Ingram admitted the move would be "unpopular" but defended it by saying: "It should, however, be seen in the context of the good welfare package enjoyed by all service personnel and the availability of consumable goods in the Iraq theatre."

What you buy in Iraq is not what you buy in the UK
Maria Rusling
Gulf War Veterans Association
The Army Families Federation agreed with Mr Ingram that the move was fair.

"We accept the realities of the situation," a spokeswoman said.

"It brings us into line with every other operational service.

"The free parcels were brought in because we were in a war situation. We are just glad they did not do this before Christmas."

However, the Gulf War Veterans Association said the postal charge was "appalling" and could lead to families sending fewer items less often.

The association's general manager Maria Rusling said: "Stuff from home helps keep them focused.

"They say that soldiers have everything on tap over in Iraq now but they don't have pictures from home on tap, pictures of birthdays, pictures of first days at school.

"It is these and the goodies from home that keep their morale up.

"The stuff out there is not the same. What you buy in Iraq is not what you buy in the UK.

"They are in a dangerous environment. People are being killed out there," she added.

Shadow defence minister Keith Simpson also criticised the decision to start charging for the morale-boosting service.

"Given the nature of operations in southern Iraq, it is disappointing that ministers could not maintain this service.

"The cancellation sends all the wrong signals to the service personnel and their families."

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