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Armenian Army Death Toll Down In 2011

Gevorg Kostanian, Armenia's chief military prosecutor
Gevorg Kostanian, Armenia's chief military prosecutor
YEREVAN -- Armenian's chief military prosecutor says the number of Armenian soldiers who died in action and noncombat circumstances fell by 33 percent to a total of 36 last year, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Gevorg Kostanian said that according to official data 26 soldiers committed suicide, were killed by fellow servicemen, or died from diseases or in various accidents in 2011, down from 43 such cases in 2010.

The 10 other soldiers were shot dead in skirmishes with Azerbaijani forces.

Most of those incidents apparently occurred along the heavily militarized "line of contact" that runs east and north of the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Kostanian said the lower noncombat death toll was the result of tougher "preemptive and punitive measures" taken by the army command and military prosecutors.

The Armenian Military and Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian promised a tougher crackdown on hazing and other army crimes as the chronic problem gained greater public resonance in late 2010. Dozens of military personnel have been arrested, fired, or demoted since then.

But civic activists who monitor army crimes insist the Defense Ministry is still not doing enough to tackle the problem. They also continue to accuse military authorities of failing to properly investigate soldier deaths.

In particular, the military is accused of portraying murders as suicides. Relatives of some of the soldiers who purportedly killed themselves regularly demonstrate outside the main government building in Yerevan, alleging an official cover-up.

"If a single murder was indeed presented as a suicide, I will immediately resign," Kostanian said at a news conference. "There is no way a murder could have been presented as a suicide. That's impossible."

He added that "if people prefer to act on the emotional plane, I can understand them. But for all my sincere sympathy for their loss, I often cannot agree with their claims."

According to the military prosecutors, only two murders were committed within the army ranks last year, down from 17 such cases in 2010.

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