Swiss citizens worry about security in Iraq

Security has been stepped up at the Japanese embassy in Baghdad Keystone

With the increased unrest in post-war Iraq, Swiss nationals are worried that they could fall victim to violence.

This content was published on April 13, 2004 - 15:30

But the Swiss foreign ministry says it will continue its work in the capital, Baghdad, despite recent kidnappings of foreigners.

“Every foreigner must feel threatened because of the kidnappings. It can happen to anybody, whether they are Swiss or any other nationality,” Martin Aeschbacher, who heads the Swiss liaison office in Baghdad, told swissinfo.

Dozens of foreigners are reported to have been captured or have disappeared in Iraq in recent weeks. Over the Easter weekend Russian, Chinese and Japanese citizens were among those abducted.

Some have subsequently been released.

“I don’t think the Swiss are top of the [kidnappers’] list but this doesn’t mean that we are safe from the people who are just interested in kidnapping foreigners – no matter where they’re from,” Aeschbacher added.

Calm before the storm

The Swiss liaison office in Baghdad - Switzerland’s unofficial embassy in Iraq - has been able to keep its work going.

“On the whole we have been able to do our work. I am still able to walk around town but I have reduced my activities outside the house to the absolute minimum,” Aeschbacher said.

“In Baghdad it is relatively quiet at the moment, maybe even too quiet. It seems like the calm before the storm,” he added.

But Aeschbacher said this applied only to the quarter where the Swiss liaison office is based. He has not been able to visit other quarters, such as the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City.

“Since the war we have continuously tightened our security measures and we keep a close eye on the situation. We are pretty well protected at the moment,” Aeschbacher told swissinfo.

Meanwhile, the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a statement on Tuesday calling upon "all belligerents to respect the civilian population and to ensure access to medical facilities at all times".

"The ICRC is extremely alarmed about the escalation of violence throughout Iraq and fears a further deterioration of the already precarious humanitarian situation in the country," the neutral organisation said in a statement.

Investment

Swiss companies operating in Iraq also remain cautious and have expressed concern over the on-going instability.

“We are a bit worried at the moment and we are monitoring the situation. We are currently only sending spare parts to Iraq,” Thomas Schmid of the Swiss-Swedish engineering group, ABB, told swissinfo.

ABB is one of three Swiss companies that have permanent representation in the country. Syngenta, the world’s largest agrochemicals company and the technology firm, Bühler, also have a presence in Iraq.

“We have not been able to keep in touch with our staff in Iraq,” said Thomas Friedli of Biral, a Swiss producer of hydraulic pumps.

“We continued to export hydraulic pumps to hospitals in Iraq during the embargo but we are no longer able to deliver spare parts. At the moment we have no activities in Iraq.”

Last year Biral exported 289 pumps worth more than SFr1 million ($770,000) to Iraqi hospitals.

Although it is unclear exactly how many Swiss companies are currently doing business with Iraq, official figures show that Swiss exports totalled SFr38.4 million ($30.24 million) in 2003. There were no imports from Iraq.

swissinfo, Billi Bierling

Key facts

Swiss exports to Iraq reached a peak in 1982 of SFr680.4 million.
The main Swiss exports in 1984 were electrical equipment, optical instruments, metal goods, pharmaceutical products, pesticides and chemicals.
In 1994, the main exported items were pharmaceutical products.
Swiss exports totalled SFr38.4 million in 2003. There were no imports from Iraq.

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