Troops in Bosnia among 7,000 cut: Other ranks face compulsory redundancy for the first time as timing of statement is attacked. Christopher Bellamy reports

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT came under attack again last night when it disclosed that 7,000 more soldiers would receive redundancy notices this morning, including some serving in Bosnia or Northern Ireland. Dr David Clark, Labour's defence spokesman said: 'It is a national disgrace that we are sacking 7,000 British troops when only last week General Rose (the UN commander in Bosnia) was asking for additional troops to protect the innocent people of Bosnia.'

The Government has also invited criticism by making the announcement in a written Parliamentary answer, and not as an oral statement from Malcolm Rifkind, the Secretary of State for Defence. The Ministry of Defence said Mr Rifkind was visiting the Defence Research Agency at Farnborough.

For the first time, some ordinary soldiers, non-commissioned officers and sergeant-majors are being made compulsorily redundant, although all have been warned they are in the age groups at risk. In the two previous waves of redundancy, a year and two years ago, only officers faced compulsory redundancy: all the other ranks were volunteers.

The number of those made redundant who are serving in Bosnia or Northern Ireland will not be disclosed until the individuals have been told, although the adjutant general, General Sir Michael Wilkes, said the number was 'quite small - fewer than last year'. General Wilkes said: 'I don't want to say anything about Bosnia until Bosnia knows. But we don't differentiate between a man serving in Bosnia, Northern Ireland or any other operational theatre.' Last year, 97 people serving in the former Yugoslavia were made redundant, mostly volunteers.

This morning 720 officers and 6,296 other ranks will be summoned to see their commanding officers and will receive redundancy notices. Jeremy Hanley, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, yesterday told Parliament that 85 per cent of those receiving notices had volunteered but 142 officers and 953 other ranks had to be selected for compulsory redundancy.

Over the three-year period, 16,866 people have been made redundant, of whom 89 per cent were volunteers, including 68 per cent of officers and 93 per cent of other ranks.

The announcement marks the last stage of the planned reduction of the Army under the Options for Change review, but the timing, a week after the Government decided against major reinforcement of British troops in Bosnia, is embarrassing and led to calls for a reappraisal of defence policy. The final phase will bring Army strength down to about 120,000 by next April, and the Army hopes that at last there will be a period of stability. Under Options for Change, it was first planned to reduce the Army to 116,000, then, after a public and Parliamentary outcry, 119,000. Recently, a further study, Front Line First, was announced, to increase the number of soldiers in fighting units by 3,000, which might involve a further increase in overall strength. The Army has fixed on 120,000 - fewer than any country of comparable size.

France, which has a similar position on the UN Security Council and a prominent role in UN peacekeeping operations, has an Army of 240,000, although nearly 140,000 are conscripts.

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