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German says army foiling efforts at infiltration

Defence Minister Volker Ruehe said Monday the German army was on top of attempts by right-wing extremists to infiltrate its ranks to gain weapons and combat training.

ARD television said in a weekend report that extremist groups were systematically trying to get their members into the army to learn skills that could then be used in guerrilla attacks.Ruehe said some extremists would always try to penetrate the army but they were generally detected and thrown out.

"We've got this thing under control," he told reporters at a swearing-in ceremony for new army recruits in the northern town of Lueneburg.

Ruehe received backing from the liberal Free Democrats, junior partners in Chancellor Helmut Kohl's coalition.

"The new accusations of infiltration of the army by right-wing radicals are completely exaggerated," said Juergen Koppelin, an FDP defence policy specialist and member of parliament.

"Every right-wing radical incident in the army has to be taken seriously," he added. "But the army has to be protected in the face of attempts to create the impression that it's being increasingly infiltrated by right-wing radicals."

ARD's Tagesthemen program said groups such as the National Democratic Party of Germany were determined to get their members into the army.

An official of the NPD's youth wing told the program the party was willing to go through the courts to prevent its members being excluded on political grounds.

The report was the latest in a series of cases linking the modern German army with right-wing extremism.

Incidents have ranged from soldiers selling outlawed Nazi propaganda in their barracks to giving each other the illegal stiff-armed Hitler greeting and shouting the Nazi battle cry "Sieg Heil" to each other.