Support for Swiss soldiers off Somali coast

Swiss soldiers should protect the national fleet in the Gulf of Aden, a parliamentary committee has recommended, adding to the controversy over the role of the army.

This content was published on June 17, 2009

The security committee of the Swiss House of Representatives has backed the engagement of 30 soldiers to support the European Union anti-piracy operation Atalanta off the coast of Somalia. The cabinet agreed to a military escort force in February.

The committee approved military action on the basis of existing military law, seeing no need for a revision of the law. Cabinet is in favour of changing the law. The issue is expected to come before parliament in the autumn session.

The army's mission would be purely to protect the ships and to defend them in the event of attack by pirates, the committee concluded. A military offensive against the pirates on land or water would breach the defensive mandate of the army and has been ruled out.

The EU has called on Switzerland to dispatch troops to participate in operation Atalanta. If parliament backs the deployment, Swiss soldiers would protect World Food Programme ships as well as Swiss vessels.

A budget of SFr9.8 million ($9 million) would be allocated to the pirate force. The prospect of Swiss soldiers in action abroad remains very controversial in Switzerland – critics say it is a violation of the country's neutrality.

Another parliamentary committee came out against the anti-piracy force last week. and agencies

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