Sixty years ago, Switzerland sent a contingent of unarmed soldiers abroad for the first time. Their destination: Korea. Nearly 100 joined the very first contingent, and Gottfried Weilenmann was among them, spending a year travelling between the North and the South.
The soldiers were part of two commissions set up in the framework of the 1953 ceasefire between the warring parties in the Korean conflict.
The Swiss government had responded favourably to a request to join the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission (NNRC) and Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC), becoming their fourth member along with Sweden, Poland and Czechoslovakia.
Foreign Minister Max Petitpierre said at the time that the government was convinced that Switzerland should “participate in those international tasks in the service of peace that are not incompatible with our neutrality.”
The NNRC, which finished its work in 1956, handled the repatriation of the prisoners of war after the Korean War.
The NNSC, which still exists today, was originally assigned supervision, observation, inspection and investigation tasks. But before it even began its work, its role was reduced to monitoring the exchange of military personnel and war material between North and South Korea at ten locations.