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Bern lifts weapons ban to Emirates

All a misunderstanding: 40 Swiss tanks like this one were intended for the UAE but turned up in Morocco

(Keystone)

The government has re-opened the way for the sale of Swiss weapons to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) after lifting an export ban imposed last year.

On Monday the economics ministry confirmed newspaper reports that the ban was lifted last week following a request from Economics Minister Joseph Deiss.

In August 2005 the cabinet introduced a weapons ban to the UAE following reports that 180 Swiss personnel carriers sold to the UAE and destined for Iraq would not be used for civilian purposes as agreed, thus breaching the so-called end-user certificate.

A few days later it was revealed that 40 tanks sold to the United Arab Emirates in 2004 had ended up in Morocco – also breaching the end-user certificate.

Deiss reiterated in March this year that no further business with the Gulf state was on the cards.

On Monday however a spokeswoman from the economics ministry confirmed a report in the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper that the ban was being lifted.

She said this was made possible by the UAE offering a total apology for disregarding Swiss demands for guarantees that the vehicles would be deployed for civilian purposes.

For its part, the UAE talked of a misunderstanding – it said it had obtained permission from the United States, which built the tanks, but not from the Swiss authorities to forward the tanks to Morocco.

The Swiss government added on Monday that future attempts to exports weapons to the UAE would be approved according to the usual criteria.

Initiative

In a separate development, a pro-peace coalition of Greens and leftwing activists has launched an initiative calling for a ban on all weapons exports.

Green Party parliamentarian Josef Lang, who is on the initiative's committee and is also from the Group for a Switzerland without an Army (GsoA), said on Friday that it would be more sensible to fight poverty than to arm poor countries and fan wars.

Lang said he was convinced that the Swiss do not want Swiss military equipment ending up in Iraq, be it directly or indirectly.

If the coalition can collect and hand in 100,000 signatures in favour of the amendment within 18 months, this "people's initiative" must be put to a nationwide vote.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

In September 2005 Joseph Deiss announced that 40 tanks sold to the UAE in 2004 had been sent to Morocco in a clear breach of the end-user certificate.

Deiss said Switzerland would probably not have approved their export to Morocco, due to the country's long-running conflict with the Polisario independence movement in the Western Sahara.

The Moroccan affair came to light just days after the Swiss government suspended the SFr12 million ($9.4 million) sale to the UAE of 180 personnel carriers, destined for Iraq.

Ostensibly for Iraq's police force, the carriers were instead to be used by a tank division.

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