Switzerland has paid for North Korean army officers to attend peace and security training courses in Geneva since 2011, it has been revealed. But several parliamentarians have criticised the support worth CHF150,000 ($170,000).
According to Swiss public radio (RTS), eight North Korean officers have attended courses at the Geneva Center for Security Policy over the past three years, funded by the Swiss defence ministry. Two are currently present.
There they have followed study programmes on global security issues such as weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and human rights. The Ukraine crisis and the Arab spring uprisings have also been studied from the armed forces and democratisation perspectives.
Bern hopes these courses will contribute to peace efforts and encourage the hardline Communist regime to open up. An official told RTS that their engagement was ‘quite limited’ but nonetheless ‘worthwhile’.
However, Swiss parliamentarian Jacques Neirynck called the ministry’s initiative extremely naïve and said the money was ‘badly invested’. Other politicians, including members of the Foreign Affairs and Security Policy commissions, are also reportedly critical of the Swiss support and plan to send an official question to the government.
Bern has maintained diplomatic relations with Pyongyang since 1974. Since 2003, Switzerland and North Korea have been engaged in annual political dialogues, held alternately in Bern and Pyongyang.
Since 1953, Switzerland has participated in the Neutral Monitoring Commission for Korea (NNSC), which is active on the demarcation line between the two countries. At the beginning, 146 non-armed officers were deployed there; today there are five.
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation has maintained an office in Pyongyang since 1997. By the end of 2011, Switzerland had largely finished its development cooperation with North Korea. However, it remains active in terms of humanitarian aid.
swissinfo.ch and agencies