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Swiss government wants armed military peace missions abroad

The Swiss government on Wednesday proposed new legislation that would allow armed peace missions, but no combat role, for Swiss military units abroad.

This content was published on October 27, 1999 - 17:05

The Swiss government on Wednesday proposed new legislation that would allow armed peace missions, but no combat role, for Swiss military units abroad.

Under the proposals, which could take effect in 2001 at the earliest, parliament would have to approve missions that involve more than 100 troops and last longer than three weeks.

The proposed amendments to Swiss military law takes on added significance as Switzerland currently has a unit of just over 140 men serving with international KFOR troops in Kosovo. Those troops do not carry weapons even though some rifles were taken along to protect the unit in case of extreme threats.

KFOR has asked Switzerland to help provide security in the troubled Serb province by contributing a contingent of armed military police. That request has not yet been decided on, but a similar one three months ago for civilian police to serve with United Nations police troops in Kosovo was turned down.

Switzerland is not a member of the U.N. but has regularly contributed unarmed troops for various missions.

The Swiss constitution bans armed military service abroad and the modest armament of the SWISSCOY troops in Kosovo has caused a heated political debate as to whether the mission violates Swiss neutrality.

The 141-strong volunteer SWISSCOY unit provides logistical support for the Austrian KFOR contingent but is not under its direct command.

Much of the domestic criticism of that mission came from the nationalist Swiss People’s Party, which scored significant wins in parliamentary elections over the weekend.

The government’s proposals are now clearly aimed at trying to win broad-based parliamentary support for the reforms.

Swiss Defence Minister Adolf Ogi has repeatedly said that Switzerland’s national security policy is guided by the idea of “Security through Cooperation.” This includes Switzerland’s participation in NATO’s Partnership for Peace programme.

From staff and wire reports.

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