Russian officers jailed for killing conscript

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MOSCOW, Nov 12 (Reuters) A Russian military court jailed a captain and a warrant officer today for beating a young conscript to death during a drunken rampage at an elite space forces base.

The military court found the two soldiers guilty of causing death, grievous bodily harm and abuse of office for beating conscript Sergei Sinkonen to death at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in the Arkhangelsk region of northern Russia.

Warrant Officer Vadim Kalinin was sentenced to 14 years in jail and Captain Viktor Bal was sentenced to 11 years in jail, Itar-Tass reported, citing the court decision. They also had their ranks revoked.

''When deciding the punishment, it was taken into account that Bal fully admitted his guilt and repented. Kalinin denied any involvement in Sinkonen's death but was proved guilty,'' Tass quoted military prosecutor Konstantin Olkhovatenko as saying.

At the time of the beating in August, officials said two soldiers had beaten up Sinkonen with belts and thrown him in a dog cage after heavy drinking at a wedding reception. Sinkonen later died from his injuries. The officials said another conscript was also badly beaten.

Defence Minister Sergei Serdyukov sacked a general who was acting head of the base and called for tough punishment for officers at the base who he said had been negligent in carrying out their duties.

Bullying in the Russian army became a major political issue last year when doctors amputated the legs and genitals of a conscript who was bullied by fellow soldiers.

That caused deep embarrassment for then Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, who is seen as a possible contender to take over from President Vladimir Putin in 2008.

Serdyukov replaced Ivanov as defence minister in February when the latter was promoted to first deputy prime minister.

The space force prides itself on high levels of discipline and is considered an elite branch of the armed forces.

Recruits in Russia's military serve 18 months and face abusive treatment by older soldiers called ''dedovshchina'', or ''rule of the grandfathers''.

REUTERS PJ RAI2337

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