BONN, FEB. 5 -- The number of German soldiers and reservists applying for conscientious-objector status more than quadrupled last month because of "unease over the gulf war," German Defense Minister Gerhard Stoltenberg said today.
Germany has sent only 18 planes and about 800 air force support personnel to Turkey as part of its gulf effort, but more than 60 of the men in two units there have declared they will seek objector status, the Defense Ministry announced.
Encouraged by antiwar groups, 23,197 soldiers and reservists claimed objector status in January to avoid having to participate in the war. The sharp jump ends a six-month decline in applications for objector status.
All German men must serve a year in the military beginning at age 18 unless they profess conscientious objection. Objectors may fulfill their obligation through humanitarian civilian service.
In an interview scheduled for Wednesday's editions of the newspaper Bild, Stoltenberg assured Germans that "no engagement in the gulf conflict is planned" and that the German servicemen in Turkey "have a clear mission, to work with the allies to make an attack against that NATO country still more improbable."
The government contends that the Germen constitution forbids military participation in the U.S.-led coalition actively engaging Iraqi forces in the gulf region. But Bonn political leaders remain split over whether Germany should commit its military, Europe's largest, if Turkey is attacked by Iraq.