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SUVA, Fiji (Fijilive, March 12) – The Fiji military is hurting from the departure of 300 soldiers of all ranks in the last two years.

This year, 12 resigned in the first two months, including one officer.

"We are hurting as far as manning is concerned because officers have been resigning from the force," said army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Orisi Rabukawaqa. "They have resigned for private reasons like joining the army in Australia, England, New Zealand and a lot joined security companies serving in volatile places like Iraq."

The resignations since 2002 have been at an average of 100 per year.

Some 14 police officers have also left for similar reasons.

The military recruited officers in 2001/2002 in anticipation of the void left by departing officers, particularly retiring officers who would have left the army at an average of two per year since 1997. A study conducted by the military in that year envisaged that would be the trend. But reality has surpassed expectations.

"In 2002, the number of retirees upon request rose to about 14 every year," said Lt-Col Rabukawaqa.

Officers in the regular force dropped to about 85. Only 60 to 65 of these officers have been commissioned for more than five years.

The situation is such that the military may not have the capacity to fully man overseas operations it is renowned worldwide for.

In February, the military sent five commissioned officers to serve in the United Nations Observer Mission in Sudan, seven less than what was requested.

To fulfill the offer by the United Nations, the Fiji Military Forces trained Warrant Officers to make up the 15 wanted in Sudan.

These officers, a rank below a commissioned officer, are very senior and have served in the force for a number of years, some for 20 years.

But, that was not sufficient for the United Nations who maintained that five years of commission was the minimum criteria.

Also, Fiji Military Forces policy demands that for every soldier serving overseas, there should be at least two others at home.

"That's the ideal ratio. One is doing the work, one is resting after deployment and one is waiting to go," said Lt Col Rabukawaqa.

Each army in the world has their own ratio. Britain is understood to have a 1:10 ratio.

Home Affairs Minister Josefa Vosanibola said that Fiji's small economy prevented it from sustaining the military's manpower needs.

March 13, 2006

Fijilive: http://www.fijilive.com

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