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Annan holds out hand to Switzerland ahead of UN vote

Kofi Annan (left), pictured with Moritz Leuenberger, praised Switzerland's contribution to the UN

(Keystone)

The United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, says he would be disappointed if the Swiss people decided against UN membership when the issue comes to a vote next year. He made the statement after talks with government leaders in Bern.

Annan told a news conference he would say nothing while in Switzerland which could influence the vote, but added that "if the Swiss people vote 'yes' they would be welcomed with open arms into the United Nations".

He praised Switzerland's role in UN agencies and as a host for UN institutions, as well as the limited involvement of Swiss peacekeepers in UN operations in the Balkans and the Middle East.

Annan said he did not believe UN membership would have any negative impact on Switzerland's neutrality. His view was echoed by the Swiss president, Moritz Leuenberger.

Along with the Vatican, Switzerland is the only state in the world not to be a full UN member, although it plays an active role in many UN agencies and institutions.

UN membership was rejected at the polls in 1986 amid concerns that it would undermine Swiss neutrality.

Later in the day, Annan visited the Biel school of architecture and engineering. He is due to address the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva on Friday, the last day of his three-day visit to Switzerland.

In a speech in Zurich on Wednesday, Annan called on more Swiss companies to play a greater role in combating world poverty.

Annan said that despite increasing globalisation, "a large proportion of the world's population is still denied prosperity owing to hunger, illness, violence or a lack of education".

He said many leading Swiss companies had already responded to the Global Compact between the UN, the private sector and civil society, which he first proposed at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos in 1999.

He called on more Swiss companies to come forward to support the Global Compact, to get more involved in health issues and to "set about building the markets of the future".

swissinfo with agencies


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