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Territorial militia brace for cuts

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11:27 CET+01:00
A plan for major personnel cuts in Norway's Home Guard has militiamen up in arms ahead of an expected official announcement on Thursday.

The territorial guard, or Heimevern, helped shore up security when in July 2011 the bombs and bullets of confessed killer Anders Behring Breivik sparked fear of a foreign attack on Norway. Record flooding in 2010 and 2011 also saw the time-honoured militia build temporary dykes and rescue victims.

“(Cutting the force) saves money in the short term but it takes a long time to build (the militia) up again,” a militiaman told broadcaster NRK.

Armed Forces commander-in-chief Harald Sunde has warned he would cut the standing force to 30,000 by 2016. Cuts since 2006 have slashed the force from 87,000 to today's 45,000 , a number Prime Minister Stoltenberg has said was desirable.

A year ago, Defence Minister Grete Faremo disbanded the Heimevern’s best equipped force — the 5,000-strong, anti-sabotage HV-016 — without consulting parliament.

The force has been criticised for not being equipped or trained to fulfil the key mission of assisting police during social unrest or the type of terror threat experienced in July. Many were said to arrive at roadblocks without real weapons or minus ammunition.

Sunde and the defence establishment have all but said the HV is a relic of the Cold War, when Nato commitments required as many people as possible for the “front” against the Soviet Union. Just 20 percent of the Guard regularly attend manoeuvres.

With Russia outnumbered and less well-armed than Europe, the HV is being envisioned as a civilian help force financed by 1.1 billion kroner. ($189 million).

Parliament will debate the Defence Ministry’s decision on Thursday.

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