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Non-service deaths hit 35 in Russian Armed Forces in Jan. - ministry

MOSCOW, February 27 (RIA Novosti) - Twenty-six servicemen committed suicide and nine died as a result of crimes or accidents in the Russian Armed Forces in January 2007, the Defense Ministry said Tuesday.

Russia's military brass has declared a clampdown on non-service deaths, including as a result of hazing incidents, which have plagued the military since Soviet times, since some of the most outrageous cases made international headlines a year ago.

The ministry said seven of the 35 conscripts died as a result of accidents, without elaborating further. Another seven servicemen were killed in Chechnya, Russia's troubled southern republic, where clashes with separatists are continuing although the federal campaign has been declared over.

The Defense Ministry said the non-service death toll in December 2006 was 40 servicemen.

The number of crimes committed in the Armed Forces in January 2007 totaled 835, against 829 in December, according to the Web site.

Corruption, embezzlement and negligence have been cited as the most frequent crimes among officers, which have also encouraged disorder in army ranks and hazing attacks. Recruits have also been used as free labor to build cottages for generals.

A tragedy involving Private Andrei Sychyov, who had both legs amputated after being tortured during the New Year holidays at a tank academy in a south Urals city in 2006, stunned society and sparked off a wave of criticism against the top military.

The Defense Ministry earlier reported that 554 servicemen died in 2006, a 50% decrease, year-on-year, in the number of service-related deaths. Among those, 210 servicemen committed suicide and 27 died in hazing attacks. Rights groups say the figures are heavily underestimated.

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