The number of Armenian soldiers killed by fellow servicemen or in other non-combat circumstances has been steadily declining, Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian insisted on Thursday amid continuing street protests against army crimes.
“The number of such cases is steadily declining. But every single incident is a tragedy unacceptable to us,” Ohanian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) as he was heading to a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan.
According to Armenian human rights groups, 23 soldiers have been killed by their comrades, committed suicide or died in various accidents and as a result of illnesses so far this year. Nine other soldiers are said to have died in skirmishes with Azerbaijani troops.
Military prosecutors reported 43 non-combat deaths in the course of last year. They have not released any figures for 2011.
Ohanian has repeatedly promised a tougher crackdown on abuses within the army ranks. Last month the Armenian military signaled plans to impose stricter punishment for hazing and other chronic crimes.
Dozens of servicemen have already been arrested, fired or demoted over the past year.
Civic activists monitoring army crimes insist that the Defense Ministry is still not doing enough to tackle the problem. They also continue to accuse military authorities of failing to properly investigate soldier deaths.
Ohanian on Thursday threatened legal action against some of those activists. He accused them of engaging in “slander and personal insults or illicit steps” against the military.
The minister was again confronted by parents of some of the dead soldiers protesting outside the prime minister’s office against what they see as an official cover-up of the deaths.