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YEREVAN -- A top Armenian military official says the number of draftees evading compulsory military service has shrunk considerably in the past decade, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Colonel Gagik Harutiunian told journalists that the number of "draft dodgers has decreased by 50 percent since the late 1990s and early 2000s."

Harutiunian, who is in charge of the draft, did not give precise numbers but said that male citizens who have evaded military service since independence in 1991 make up one-quarter of Armenia's "mobilization resources."

Under Armenian law, all men aged 18 must serve in the army for two years unless they suffer from serious illness or have two children. Those who are enrolled in a state-run university are drafted after they graduate.

Draft evasion was widespread in the early 1990s when Armenia was at war with Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, while it built its armed forces from scratch. Thousands of draft-age men fled the country at the time.

Harutiunian said the situation has markedly improved since then because of a steady development of the military and the commissions that recruit conscripts.

He added that a growing number of draft dodgers are returning to the country to avoid prosecution. Many more such men choose to buy an amnesty in accordance with a special law.

The law, drafted by the Armenian Defense Ministry, allows draft dodgers who were aged 27 and older at the time of its passage in 2004 to avoid criminal prosecution in return paying a fee.
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