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Russian tries to allay fears about military

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In a week in which eight Russian soldiers were killed by their comrades, a former military officer fielded tough questions when he talked to high school students fearful about being drafted.

"Parents are afraid to have their sons drafted into the military, and the young people are afraid to serve," acknowledged retired Col. Gen. Eduard Vorobyov, who is also a member of the defense affairs committee in Parliament.Vorobyov went to High School No. 11 in Khimki, just northwest of Moscow, on Wednesday to discuss problems plaguing the army as well as plans for military reform.

Two fatal shootings this week highlighted the crisis in the military, which suffers from a lack of money, low morale and vicious hazing of young conscripts by older soldiers.

"I wouldn't mind military service if the state of morale in the army was any better," said one student, 16-year-old Ivan Tyagun. "Everyone knows that hazing is widespread, with elder soldiers abusing young conscripts."

In one of the two shootings this week, a soldier in the Far East on Monday went on a rampage, killing seven comrades and injuring one. A day earlier, a soldier shot a fellow serviceman to death and deserted his post on the outskirts of Moscow. Such episodes have become increasingly common.

"I can't be sure that similar shooting incidents wouldn't happen again," Vorobyov told The Associated Press.

President Boris Yeltsin Thursday blamed local officials for the two shootings.

The president did not specify what the local officials should have done to prevent the shootings.