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Calmy-Rey under fire over Balkan visit

Members of the Swiss Serbian community during a demonstration against the independence of Kosovo Reuters

As Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey prepares for a five-day trip to three Balkan countries, including Kosovo, critics are questioning her motives.

This content was published on March 26, 2008 - 18:07

Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia are also on the itinerary, but commentators have expressed concerns that Serbia has been deliberately omitted.

Calmy-Rey's visit comes a week after she ruffled feathers at home and abroad for attending the signing of a Swiss-Iranian gas deal in Teheran – and for wearing a headscarf.

On her visit to the Kosovan capital Pristina, Calmy-Rey will officially open the Swiss embassy there, only the second foreign embassy - after the British - to be established in Kosovo since statehood was declared on February 17.

Ten days later the Swiss government joined the United States, Britain, Germany and other countries in deciding to recognise Kosovo as an independent country.

Serbia immediately recalled its ambassador to Bern, arguing that it was an "attack" against Serbia's sovereignty.

In Pristina Calmy-Rey will meet Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi and President Fatmir Sejdiu. She will also meet the Peter Feith, head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, and Tim Guldimann, head of the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) mission.

On Friday and Saturday Calmy-Rey will visit bilateral cooperation projects in Kosovo and meet members of the Swisscoy military staff.

"Logical matter of course"

However, the head of a parliamentary foreign affairs committee, Dick Marty, said there was no reason for Switzerland's foreign minister to visit Kosovo so soon.

"After the electoral victory of pro-Western candidates in Serbia, a gesture towards Belgrade would have been appropriate," he told the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper.

"Instead, Switzerland and the EU are doing everything to drive Serbia into Russia's arms."

But Mario Fehr, like Calmy-Rey a member of the centre-left Social Democratic Party, told swissinfo on Wednesday that opening an embassy in Pristina was "an important political signal that Switzerland was taking an active involvement in the region's peace and stability".

Fehr said opening the embassy was a "logical matter of course" considering the Swiss government had recognised Kosovo, provided civilian and military aid and the fact that ten per cent of Kosovars lived in Switzerland.

"It's not enough just to recognise Kosovo," he said. "One has to also take on responsibility."

Fehr pointed out that Switzerland had adopted a leading role in Kosovo early on and had a strong influence there. "Whoever takes on a leading role needs an embassy," he added.

Priority region

The Western Balkans have been one of the priorities of Switzerland's foreign policy since the 1990s.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) have a joint budget of SFr67 million for this region in 2008.

The SDC focuses on efforts to stabilise democracy, strengthen the local economy, reform social institutions and promote the sustainable development of natural resources. Seco concentrates on basic infrastructure, such as water and electricity.

swissinfo

In brief

Calmy-Rey begins her five-day visit in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina on Thursday March 27.

She will spend Friday and Saturday in Kosovo and Sunday and Monday in Skopje, Macedonia.

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Switzerland and the Balkans

Switzerland is home to a sizeable community of people from the Balkans, of which 270,000 come from the three countries included on this official visit – Kosovo, Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. There are also about 40,000 Serbs in Switzerland.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia on February 17 after internationally led talks to reach a mutual agreement on status failed.

Switzerland recognised Kosovo's independence ten days later on February 27.

Calmy-Rey had been an open and long-term supporter of independence for the country.

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