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Germany endorses plan to abolish conscription by 2011

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BERLIN (PTI): Germany has endorsed a plan to abolish compulsory military service from July 1, 2011, marking a historic change for the country, where conscription was re-introduced 50 years ago.

The centre-right coalition also decided to slash the strength of the federal army to 185,000 soldiers by the middle of next year. For the first time since conscription was re-introduced in Germany 1957 after the World War II, young men will no longer be under compulsion to do the military service.

Alongside conscription, a compulsory social service also will cease to exist and it will be replaced by a voluntary social service.

Senior officials in Germany's coalition government have agreed to suspend military conscription as of July 1, 2011. Defence Minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg's proposal was accepted during closed-door talks in Berlin.

Until now, young men reaching the age for conscription had the possibility to choose between military service or social service.

These are part of far-reaching reforms proposed by Defence Minister Guttenberg to drastically reduce the costs for maintaining the federal army while making it more efficient for its international operations.

“The coalition has reached an agreement on a historic reform of the federal army in its history,” Guttenberg told journalists in Berlin on Friday.

More than 50 years of conscription will come to a close on July 1, next year, he said.

During the cold war era, the German army had a strength of over 500,000 soldiers while around 170,000 troops served in the National People's Army (NVA) of the former East Germany.

After the reunification of the two nations 20 years ago, East German soldiers were partly integrated into the federal army.

Subsequently, the troop level was reduced to 370,000 and this trend continued until it reached the present level of 240,000 soldiers.

In future, the army will be comprised of 170,000 professional soldiers and a voluntary military service force of between 7,500 and 15,000 young men and women, who will be serving up to 23 months.

As a compromise, the coalition agreed that it will remain in the constitution. Guttenberg's plans to save around 8.3 billion euros in the next four years by closing down several army garrisons may not be realised because of opposition from the coalition partners.

However, the coalition endorsed his plan to slim down the defence ministry by scrapping around half of its present 3,000 office staff and by concentrating its work in Berlin even though the main ministry is still in Bonn.

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