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Swiss approve MMS alarm for missing children

(Keystone)

Parliament has voted to introduce a mobile phone photo alarm system for missing children who are feared abducted. The system is said to be the first of its kind.

The move is a political response to the abduction and murder of a five-year-old girl in eastern Switzerland earlier this year.

Swiss Justice Minister Christoph Blocher said that the system using photos was a totally new approach in the hunt for missing children - and a first worldwide.

It would involve sending a picture of the missing child to mobile phones, with a description and a number to call.

MMS, or Multimedia Messaging Service - an evolution of the SMS system - allows users to send messages that include multimedia content, such as videos or photos.

A similar system using text messaging is already used in Canada, the United States and France.

A second stage will see the introduction of an abduction alarm, which envisages the use of electronic media - including the internet - as well as signboards at stations, airports and border posts and along motorways.

The Senate approved both motions on Tuesday, following the lead of the House of Representatives which accepted the proposals in October.

Supporters believe that the MMS system, which will be coordinated by the cantons, will help find abducted children more quickly.

However, some members of the police force have expressed concerns that the system could have negative effects for the kidnapped victims.

Ylenia case

Parliament's decision was prompted by the case of Ylenia, who was found to have been poisoned by her abductor, a 67-year-old Swiss man.

He is thought to have planned his crime several weeks in advance.

The case shocked the country and led to much soul-searching about what more could have been done to save the child.

Missing children and child murders are still rare in Switzerland.

In September, 100 Swiss personalities signed an open letter to the government demanding a faster system to track down abducted children.

Measured satisfaction

The Senate decisions were cautiously welcomed by Diane Burgy, operational director of the Fredi foundation, a private body set up in 1995 to search for missing children.

"This is only a decision about the principle of an alert system," she told swissinfo. "We still have to see how this will be actually implemented."

Her biggest concern is that the alarm system will be left in the hands of the cantons.

"We have to make sure this is a nationwide system," she added. "It would be ridiculous to make it the cantons' business in such a small country as Switzerland."

Burgy hopes that the alarm system - something her foundation had already requested from the justice ministry in 2004 to no avail - will be up and running as soon as possible.

"We will be maintaining pressure on parliamentarians to make sure they follow through on these decisions," she warned.

swissinfo with agencies

Kidnapped

Ylenia from Appenzell in eastern Switzerland was last seen at a swimming pool on July 31, according to police, who have declined to release her surname in keeping with Swiss privacy laws.

That evening police found her backpack, cycling helmet and scooter beside a path in woods about 30 kilometres from the swimming pool.

On August 1, in the same forest, police found the body of a 67-year-old man who they said had shot himself in the head with a pistol.

A day earlier he had shot and injured a 46-year-old man. The younger man fled and was treated in hospital.

Police said the dead man, and suspected kidnapper, was a Swiss native who had lived in Spain with his wife since 1990.

Ylenia's corpse was discovered on September 15.

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Fredi Foundation

The Fribourg-based Fredi Foundation was created in 1995 to help find children who had been abducted.

Since 1997, its website signals the disappearance of children in Switzerland and abroad.

It is governed by a voluntary board of directors. Funding comes mainly from individual donors and the foundation receives no public funding.

The foundation launched a petition in May this year asking for a nationwide abduction alert system, months before the Ylenia case.

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