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Swedish minister says bringing back conscription could help in refugee crisis

Sweden's Minister of Foreign Affairs Margot Wallstrom listens during a news conference in Riga January 23, 2015.REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said on Sunday she would welcome the reintroduction of military and civilian conscription, saying it could make a difference in tackling crises like the massive influx of refugees from the Middle East.

“I am among those who welcome a modernised, gender-equal version of conscription, with both military and civilian components,” Wallstrom told a defence conference.

“Imagine if we had civilians in reserve this autumn and they could have been called on to reinforce the immigration agency,” she said in a speech widely quoted in local media, adding conscripts could also help out with natural disasters.

Sweden took in around 160,000 refugees last year in a country of 10 million people, the highest per capita rate in Europe. But authorities have struggled to cope with the huge numbers.

Sweden abolished compulsory military service in 2010 but polls show a majority of voters would like it reinstated. The military has also said it is short of soldiers, at a time when tensions with Russia remain high after the Crimea and Ukraine crises.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven and Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila wrote in a joint article published in newspapers in both countries on Sunday that the two neighbours needed to cooperate more closely on defence in the face of security threats such as Russia.

But they said membership of NATO was not on the cards.

“Both Finland and Sweden are outside military alliances. We think that this policy serves us well,” the two leaders wrote.

Sweden and Finland, which borders its former ruler Russia, are both outside NATO but have increased cooperation with the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Reporting by Alistair Scrutton in Stockholm and; Jussi Rosendahl in Helsinki; Editing by Mark Trevelyan