The government has decided to send a contingent of unarmed military personnel to the west African state of Mali to boost Switzerland’s peace policy commitment in the region following a request by the United Nations.
Up to eight staff officers and experts will join the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) and advise on a range of issues from humanitarian demining, munitions safety, security sector reform to military engineering and logistics.
The cabinet based its decision on a specific request by the UN, according to a statement on Wednesday by the foreign and defence ministries.
“The request shows that Switzerland is needed as an impartial and competent partner even in extremely complex situations,” the statement said.
It added that Switzerland has an interest that Mali and the Sahel region quickly stabilises in a sustainable manner, not least for reasons of security and human rights, but also to reduce the number of immigrants trying to flee to Europe.
“Switzerland is actively involved, also in a military capacity, in the stabilisation of Mali and the Sahel region,” the statement added.
Following a military coup in 2012, Islamists joined forces with Tuareg separatists in the north of the country. Their advance towards the capital, Bamako, at the beginning of 2013, prompted a military intervention by France.
Last Sunday, former prime minister Ibrahim Boubacar Keita became president in the first post-coup elections.
Mali has been a priority country for Swiss development aid since 1977 and is considered one of the world’s most aid-dependent countries.
Last year Switzerland spent a total of CHF15.6 million ($16.8 million) on aid, according to the foreign ministry. Over the past 18 months CHF 38.7 million has been provided for hunger relief in the Sahel region and for crisis resolution in Mali.
Switzerland has also been active in UN mediation efforts and participated as an observer during the recent presidential elections.
In March, Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter mooted plans for Swiss army experts to support a European Union military training mission in Mali.
Wednesday’s statement said Switzerland was examining whether to deploy Swiss civilian personnel for the UN mission and for the EU in Mali.
Switzerland currently has a total of 280 staff working on missions in 15 different countries, according to the defence ministry. Military observers are stationed in the Middle East, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan.
In 2011 the Swiss government decided to apply for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, prompting opposition by the political right which claims it is not compatible with the country’s neutrality.
swissinfo.ch and agencies