Senate backs plan to arm Swiss soldiers
The Senate has overwhelmingly approved a proposal to arm Swiss soldiers taking part in peacekeeping missions abroad. This country's neutrality has traditionally prevented soldiers from participating in foreign peace enforcement missions.
Swiss contingents are currently deployed in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo to provide support in logistics and infrastructure projects. For the time being, Swiss soldiers can only carry side-arms, but the Senate's decision would allow them to be equipped with heavier weapons.
The vote was in line with government proposals, already approved by the House of Representatives. However, the senate differed on one key point.
It stressed that any peacekeeping mission involving Swiss soldiers should be mandated by either the United Nations or the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The government and House of Representatives had suggested that deployment could be at the request of warring parties.
The Senate also approved this year's SFr1,178 million armament budget, which covers the purchase of 186 Swedish-made CV-9030 armoured personnel carriers.
It followed an impassioned plea from the defence minister, Adolf Ogi, who argued that it was difficult to motivate new recruits when they were using equipment that was twice their age.
Ogi also defended the plan to buy Swedish tanks rather than similar models from Britain and Germany. He said the CV-9030 offered better value for money.
The debate now goes back to the House of Representatives.
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