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Georgian soldiers training during a military drill in March (epa) May 1, 2006 -- Georgia's defense minister said today that Georgia plans to switch its mainly conscript army to a professional volunteer force by 2009.

At a ceremony to open a new military base 250 kilometers west of the capital Tbilisi, Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili said a decision has been made to phase out the draft.


He said after several years of debate, the Georgian government's position is clear -- namely that the army must be
based on a contract system.


Georgia, which wants to join NATO, already has four U.S-trained battalions made up of 2,000 contract service personnel. Georgia's armed forces in total number 26,000.


(AP)

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