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Death-camp commandos ‘back in training’ as defence minister vows elite force will be improved, not scrapped

The 127th Commando training course – cut short after two recruits were fatally injured and as many as nine others taken ill following exercises in stultifying temperatures – swings back into gear tomorrow (Thursday) as defence minister Azeredo Lopes has vowed to oversee improvements of Portugal’s crack force, not its demise.

Lopes was talking in parliament in response to a Bloco de Esquerda question on whether it would be better all round to scrap the elite branch of Portugal’s army after the tragedies in Alcochete on September 3 (click here).

“I cannot work from the premise that when something goes wrong it should be made extinct”, he said. “If that was the case, lots of things would be extinct in Portugal”.

Thus, as the army announces the return to training of 63 recruits who have passed rigorous tests for any physical consequences from the exercises, Azeredo Lopes has been suggesting the way ahead.

“We should look, correct and improve” so that a repetition of the disaster is “avoided”, he said, adding “we are naturally all agreed on the dramatic nature of what happened”.

Whether this kind of discourse placates families who are mourning the loss of their loved ones remains to be seen.

Two of the recruits taken ill are still in hospital 10 days on, and only improving “slowly”, and allegations of violence meted out in the unit have been widely publicised by national tabloid Correio da Manhã.

But as to suggestions that the soldiers who died may have been victims of an initial misdiagnosis by army medical personnel, the defence minister was staying mum.

“I will rigorously say nothing”, he said, “as we are before premises that remain unverified”.

With an inquiry still ongoing, this is certainly not an end to the controversy.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com