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Senate committee votes for Swedish hardware

Tanks

(Keystone)

The Senate's security committee has proposed pushing ahead with plans to purchase 186 Swedish armoured personnel carriers. The committee also voted in favour of the government's SFr1.2 billion armaments programme for 2000.

The committee's decision comes amid a growing debate about the future size and cost of the army, which is facing a major shake-up.

Explaining the committee's decision, its speaker, Pierre Paupe said two-thirds of the Swiss still supported the existence of an army. He added that an army without weapons would cease to be an army.

Paupe argued that the Swedish armoured personnel carriers were necessary, notably to replace the outdated M-113 introduced some 40 years ago. He stipulated that adapting the tanks posed no problem and only raised the overall cost by one per cent.

The committee's decision to boost military spending falls in line with the army reforms the defence minister, Adolf Ogi, has been advocating. Paupe said the committee welcomed his plans.

The Senate committee's decision follows a dispute between Ogi and the economics minister, Pascal Couchepin. Couchepin has argued that a smaller army should also be a cheaper one. According to a recent survey, half of all Swiss people agreed with Couchepin.

More than a third of Swiss people interviewed agreed with Ogi's argument that a more mobile army would warrant increased funding. The new-style Swiss army would be smaller, he said, but also more modern, making it unrealistic to make cuts in the army budget.

On the Senate security committee, the only opposition came from a Social Democrat member who argued that a decision on the extra spending should wait until the defence ministry clarifies plans for the future of the army: its size, its role vis-à-vis Switzerland's neutrality, and the military system.

The SFr1.2 billion credit includes the purchase of 120 exploration vehicles at SFr166 million, and 12 mine clearance systems at SFr22 million. The security committee voiced no opposition to these purchases.

swissinfo with agencies


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