SA scraps military service

JOHANNESBURG (Reuter) - South Africa is to scrap whites- only military conscription and replace it with a voluntary army, the Defence Minister, Kobie Coetsee, said yesterday.

'Legislation will be introduced to parliament in the forthcoming session to amend the present system,' Mr Coetsee said in a statement.

'There will therefore not be the normal intake of white national servicemen in 1994,' he said, adding that constitutional developments meant the present system had to be replaced by a more representative one.

'It is envisaged to switch to a voluntary system, supported by a form of military service if enough volunteers cannot be found,' Mr Coetsee said.

Under the present system, every medically fit white male citizen has to report for a 12-month term of continuous training followed by periodic service of a few weeks a year. The system has come under criticism for its racial basis.

'This is an important development,' said the Defence Force spokesman D A S Herbst. 'It shows the Defence Force is way ahead in keeping pace with our changing society.' South Africa is expected to hold its first all- race election in April next year following protracted constitutional negotiations.

The army has a small core of full-time professional soldiers but the bulk of soldiers are white conscripts or black volunteers. The defence budget has been sharply cut in recent years following the end of the perceived threat of Soviet expansionism in southern Africa.