The Swiss president and defence minister, Adolf Ogi (pictured), has called for Swiss soldiers to play a larger role in international peacekeeping, at a meeting in Lucerne, which has been overshadowed by the presence of Austria's foreign minister.This content was published on March 26, 2000 - 08:59
The Swiss president and defence minister, Adolf Ogi (pictured), has once again called for Swiss soldiers to play a larger role in international peacekeeping operations. He made the plea during the first day of the Europa Forum, a two-day meeting in Lucerne on European security issues. The meeting has been overshadowed by the presence of Austria's foreign minister, Benita Ferrero-Waldner. Swiss protestors angry at her presence organised a picket at the event.
In his speech, Ogi referred to the peacekeeping operation in Kosovo. He said arming Swiss soldiers would allow them to increase their contribution to peacekeeping missions, and would help promote stability and democracy in the war-torn region.
Ferrero-Waldner spoke on "Security and Peace from a European and Austrian perspective". She said that neutrality was no longer possible for Austria, a European Union member state since 1995. Since the end of the Cold War, the country's strategic position had changed radically, and it was now motivated by a desire to play a part in the integration of Europe.
She concluded by underlining Austria's contribution to peacekeeping duties worldwide, and that this role was now more important than maintaining a policy of neutrality. NATO membership for Austria was no longer out of the question, she said.
The activists who held a vigil to protest against her presence were angry with the inclusion in Austria's government of the far-right, anti-immigration Freedom Party. Later in the day around 300 people demonstrated against the meeting, throwing eggs, and playing loud music. Ferrero-Waldner's previous visit to Switzerland, earlier this month, led to street demonstrations in Berne.
Protest organiser Roland Brunner, of the Group for a Switzerland without an Army, also attacked the meeting itself, calling it "a forum of multinationals and armies."
Ferrero-Waldner will be followed to Switzerland by the Austrian chancellor, Wolfgang Schüssel, on Friday for official talks with the Swiss government.
swissinfo with agencies
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