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Pakistan still has its eyes on Swiss tanks

Swiss Defence Minister Samuel Schmid was met with full military honours

(Keystone)

Pakistan has reiterated its interest in buying used M113 armoured personnel carriers from Switzerland.

The comments were made during Defence Minister Samuel Schmid's two-day state visit to Pakistan, where he is discussing security issues and visiting the region worst affected by the 2005 earthquake.

Schmid reminded his hosts that Switzerland had decided in March 2006 that the 736 tanks worth SFr40 million ($32 million) were no longer for sale. The government had taken this decision following a scandal over army exports.

The Pakistan authorities had again expressed their interest in the obsolete armoured personnel carriers, which they claimed would be used solely for United Nations peacekeeping purposes.

During his visit Schmid held talks with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf about security issues. Musharraf stressed the importance of economic and social development aid in the wider fight against terrorism.

The defence minister also met Pakistan's Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, to discuss a possible Marshall Plan for Afghanistan to help contribute to the stability of its northern neighbour. Pakistan is currently home to some three million Afghan refugees.

And during discussions with his defence counterpart Rao Sikandar Iqba, Schmid raised the possibility of Pakistani officers training in Switzerland.

Quake zone

On Tuesday Schmid will visit the town of Balakot and its surrounding region, which was badly hit by the 7.6-magnitude earthquake on October 8, 2005.

Swiss aid workers – the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Swiss non-governmental organisations – are currently helping survivors rebuild their lives, focusing on the reconstruction of permanent homes, schools and healthcare centres.

To date, the SDC has provided a total of SFr22 million in response to the South Asia earthquake: SFr7 million for emergency assistance and SFr7 million for reconstruction in Pakistan. An additional SFr8 million has been channelled through UN organizations and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Schmid's visit takes place at a time of great tension in northern Pakistan. On Monday some 80 people were killed in Pakistan's Bajaur area in a helicopter strike on an Islamic school which the government says was used by militants.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

By 2010 the Swiss army has to dispose of surplus army equipment worth SFr10 billion ($7.7 billion), including 1,200 M109 and M113 armoured vehicles, the oldest of which are 40 years old.

In June 2005 the Swiss cabinet approved the sale of 180 used M113 to Iraq via the United Arab Emirates, but suspended the sale in August, following reports that the carriers would not be used for civilian purposes.

In March 2006 the government decided to tighten licensing procedures for army exports. This led to the UAE and Pakistan cancelling their deals.

The Swiss government then decided to scrap 550 M113 in Switzerland. All steel and aluminium components are being recycled.

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Key facts

Pakistan covers 796,095 square kilometres – twice as large as Germany and Switzerland combined.
Pakistan stretches between China, Afghanistan, India and Iran.
Over 90% of its 154 million population are Muslims, making it the third-largest Islamic state in the world.

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