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Serbia set to pardon thousands of draft dodgers

09 Mar 2010 11:50:16 GMT
Source: Reuters

http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/LDE6280YZ.htm

BELGRADE, March 9 (Reuters) - Serbia is set to pardon tens of thousands of draft dodgers, most of them hiding abroad, more than a decade after wars in the Balkans ended, the country's justice minister said on Tuesday.

The draft law, which is currently being debated by parliament, envisages a full pardon for all those who evaded conscription for the nine-month service after 2006 or fled from their units.

"We have about 40,000 conscripts living abroad and annually about 5,000 are seeking to postpone or avoid service," Justice Minister Snezana Malovic told parliament.

During the wars of the 1990s, about 500,000 young people from Serbia fled the country, many to avoid conscription.

After the 2000 ouster of late strongman Slobodan Milosevic, new, pro-Western authorities pardoned tens of thousands of draft dodgers, but resistance to serving in the army remained.

The new draft law envisages ending the prosecution of those charged with the offence and the removal of all related criminal records from their personal files.

"Most such conscripts are in constant fear of arrest whenever they come to Serbia," Malovic said.

Serbia's government moved to end the prosecution of draft dodgers after the Defence Ministry earlier this year said it would fully professionalise the army by mid-2011 and abolish compulsory conscription of all able-bodied males older than 18.

Many draft dodgers have sought to renounce their Serbian citizenship to avoid prosecution, Malovic said.

"The country must to protect itself and do more to put an end to the outflow of citizens," she said.

Serbia wants to reform its 38,000-strong military to NATO standards and make it professional, better equipped and mobile.

It also wants to cut military expenditures, set at 2.15 percent of gross domestic product in 2010, and sell or destroy obsolete weaponry and equipment inherited from the now-defunct Yugoslav People's Army. (Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Noah Barkin)