The government has said it is considering sanctions against Chad following confirmation that a Swiss-made aircraft was illegally armed and used in conflict.
It said that it would need several weeks to formulate its response to the government of Chad, which receives development assistance from Switzerland.
Media reports that Chad had outfitted the Pilatus PC-9 trainer with bombs and was using it to attack positions in the Darfur region in neighbouring Sudan first appeared in January.
On Friday, the government announced that it had instructed the economics ministry and the foreign ministry to study possible responses to the situation. It has given the ministries until the end of March to submit a joint list of recommendations.
But officials within both ministries have said that their choices are limited and that little can realistically be done to punish the government of the impoverished central African country.
Few viable options
"We have very few possibilities to sanction Chad," Othmar Wyss of the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) told swissinfo. "One possibility would be to reduce development aid or to cut it all together."
The question of exactly who to punish has flummoxed both departments. The Seco spokesman said that sanctions "wouldn't punish government, but the poorest" and he added that in any case, money already distributed cannot be taken back.
He said that while it was up to the foreign ministry to recommend imposing any sanctions – and that the government itself would have the final say – his department would re-examine the criteria under which a foreign government could purchase the Pilatus PC-9.
Current Swiss legislation does not prohibit the export of the PC-9 to a country like Chad. In a statement, the economics ministry said it would focus on the question of adapting the authorisation criteria for the export of military planes.
The foreign ministry said that other measures – including placing travel bans on politicians and freezing Swiss bank accounts – would be considered, but a spokesman cautioned that it was too early to make any predictions.
Among other options the two ministries may consider over the next few weeks is a proposal put forward by Economics Minister Doris Leuthard. Earlier this week, Leuthard – whose ministry is the gatekeeper of Swiss exports – suggested that governments receiving Swiss development assistance would no longer be able to purchase the PC-9 aircraft.
The foreign ministry says there are problems with directly linking aid to exports.
"It is in general problematic to link the efforts of development cooperation with specific conditions and create political conditionality," a spokesman told swissinfo. He added that the final decision rests with the government.
When deciding on authorisation for arms exports, the foreign ministry considers a number of factors including whether a country is in conflict, its economic standing as well as its human rights record.
swissinfo, Justin Häne
Swiss development in Chad
Swiss development assistance in Chad is geared towards regional development programmes focusing on health and agricultural projects.
Last year, Chad received roughly SFr14 million ($13.5 million) from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).
In Chad, the SDC maintains a dialogue with the national government and with agencies from the United Nations, the European Union and the aid arms of other Western governments.