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Arming Swiss troops abroad gains in popularity

Swiss troops in Kosovo help to build a 33 metre-long bridge Keystone Archive

More Swiss people are set to vote in favour of allowing Swiss troops to carry weapons on peacekeeping missions abroad in next month's referendum, according to a survey by German-speaking Swiss television station, DRS.

Around 55 per cent of the 1,334 people polled across Switzerland said they would vote in favour of the government’s bid to arm Swiss troops in the June 10 initiative.

Two non-governmental organisations, opposed to the government’s plans, collected enough signatures to force a nationwide vote on the issue.

Support for the change to the military law rose by five per cent from DRS’ previous survey, released three weeks ago. The number opposed to the changes dropped from 39 per cent, to 28 per cent.

The Swiss are also set to vote on collaboration with foreign countries in military training. The survey showed that 40 per cent of Swiss polled were in favour (up two per cent), while 36 per cent opposed the idea – six per cent fewer than three weeks ago.

The defence minister, Samuel Schmid, and the foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, last month called on voters to approve the proposals.

They said Swiss involvement would remain limited to volunteers and to peacekeeping under the auspices of the United Nations or the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Combat missions would be excluded.

Schmid and Deiss both dismissed allegations that Switzerland would compromise its traditional neutrality by allowing its soldiers to be fully armed on international missions.

Switzerland has about 160, mainly unarmed soldiers currently serving with international troops in Kosovo. Military personnel were also deployed in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Namibia and the Western Sahara over the past decade.

Swiss military observers have been stationed in several countries in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia, including on the border between North and South Korea.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR