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Peacekeeping comes under microscope in Zurich

Experts discussed peackeeping operations in Zurich


International peacekeeping missions conjure up images of blue helmeted United Nations troops in conflict zones. But a conference in Zurich has heard that most investment in peacekeeping goes towards preventing crises in the first place.

Pictures of weary UN troops in Kosovo is "the most spectacular we're fed by the media", said Kurt Spillmann, managing director of Zurich's Centre for International Studies, which organised the conference.

"But the percentage of investment going into military operations is much lower than that going to organisations trying to prevent crises," he added.

Spillmann was speaking to international experts gathered at Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology for a conference entitled: "Peace support operations - lessons learned and future perspectives".

Attendees included the former UN representative in Kosovo, Bernard Kouchner and Jacob Kellenberger of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"The purpose of the conference is for people to exchange views and derive lessons from the past 10 years," said Spillmann.

He added that the conference would also help to make the public aware of how complex peacekeeping has now become with the end of the Cold War.

The European Union and the UN are already looking at ways to coordinate their operations and the development of a more coherent international strategy is one of the main themes of the conference.

"So far people are just developing concepts," said Spillmann. "We are agreed that the only mandated operation is one that has the complete legal backing of the UN, but building on that we have to include more and more groups that can solve practical problems."

Colonel Bruno Rösli of the Defence Ministry is representing Switzerland at the conference.

Although Switzerland has always been ready with financial help, its military experience in modern peace support operations is limited to its involvement with KFor in Kosovo. Since 1999, an unarmed unit has been incorporated into an Austrian battalion.

The country's cherished view of its neutrality has made it difficult for the government to develop a more engaged policy.

But on June 10, the Swiss public will decide in a referendum whether its soldiers should be armed when involved in peace support.

"I think the Swiss government and people realise that security is indivisible," said Spillmann. "And that they cannot pretend to live on an island. We have to make our contribution to maintain security in Europe."

by Michael Hollingdale


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The citizens' meeting

The citizens' meeting

The citizens' meeting