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Macron puts army general in charge of national service - sources

PARIS (Reuters) - Emmanuel Macron has placed an army general who led U.N. operations in Mali in charge of rolling out mandatory national service, sources said, a sign of the French president’s desire to stamp the military’s mark on the exercise.

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech at the Alb'Oru cultural centre in Bastia, on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica, February 7, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Macron, France’s first post-war president not to complete military service, bills national service as a way to foster patriotism and heal social divisions by bringing together youngsters from rural areas, wealthy cities and gritty suburbs.

But his plans have irritated the army, which is already stretched fighting Islamist militants in Africa and the Middle East as well as combating home-grown jihadists.

“The president wants it to have a military feel and it’s exactly that which is causing problems,” said one lawmaker from Macron’s Republic on the Move party who is familiar with the planning.

The lawmaker and a military source said Macron had picked Brigadier General Daniel Menaouine, who commanded U.N. peacekeepers in Mali and served as chief of staff to France’s top land army general from 2010-2014.

Military officers privately express concerns about both the cost and the resources that training up to 800,000 youngsters a year will drain from an already under pressure army. Others complain that it is not the army’s role to install discipline and patriotism in France’s youth.

“It’s not our job. We can’t be a combat army and educational centre at the same time,” one officer told Reuters.

Defence Minister Florence Parly last week appeared to suggest national service would be voluntary. But on Tuesday Macron was clear he was not rowing back on his campaign pledge.

“I want this to be mandatory,” he told journalists. “How long the obligatory component will last if not finalised, but I am thinking three to six months.”

Government officials target a 2019 start.

Writing by Richard Lough; editing by John Irish