For the past two years, Swiss soldiers have been helping to rebuild the war-torn province of Kosovo as part of the international peacekeeping mission.This content was published on January 20, 2002 - 10:55
The 160 mostly unarmed Swiss volunteers who make up the "Swisscoy" mission in the Serbian province provide mainly logistical support and help in reconstruction efforts.
The pioneer platoon is made up of civilians serving with Swiss militia army.
Swiss neutrality means they cannot play an active role in peacekeeping, and they have to be protected by Austrian troops because only last June did Swiss voters approve the arming of the Swiss soldiers serving in missions outside the country.
To date, Swisscoy has assisted development - building and reconstructing roads, schools and bridges - through projects partly funded by the Swiss foreign ministry's development aid organisation.
The volunteers also provide transport for goods and people, water processing and supply to the Austrian battalion stationed there. And they give medical help and provide engineering services to other contingents taking part in a multinational brigade.
The soldiers, who serve for six months in Kosovo before they are relived by a new contingent, are stationed in a camp on the outskirts of the town of Suva Reka, between Prizren and Pristina.
Refugees and reconstruction
The Swiss participation is part of international efforts to help stabilise the fragile peace in Kosovo in the wake of the armed conflict in the province. But it is also a pillar of the Switzerland's refugee policy. At the height of the conflict in 1999 up to 53,000 refugees from Kosovo sought a safe haven in Switzerland.
The Swiss defence ministry says the aim is to make Kosovo safe in order to enable refugees to return home. Up to 43,000 refugees have gone back to the province, under a programme financed by the Swiss authorities.
Last month the Swiss parliament endorsed a proposal to extend the mandate for Swisscoy until the end of 2003. The Swiss contingent is to be beefed up with a security detachment of up to 60 additional soldiers. It will also receive armoured patrol vehicles and a transport helicopter.
Apart from its involvement in Kosovo the Swiss army between 1995 and 2000 also took part in a multinational force in Bosnia-Herzegovina under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Switzerland contributed logistical and medical troops to United Nations peacekeeping missions in Namibia and the Western Sahara. Since 1953 it has stationed army personnel at the border between North and South Korea.
In addition, Switzerland is participating in several UN observer missions in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
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