Swiss police officers are training their Macedonian counterparts in how to combat terrorism, organised crime and human trafficking.
The officers are in the former Yugoslav republic as part of a European Union mission which is helping to rebuild the country’s police force.
Switzerland - which is not a member of the European Union - signed a formal agreement with Brussels on Wednesday, officially clearing the way for the Swiss to join the multinational force in Macedonia.
Three Swiss police officers have been on the ground since the beginning of the year: two were sent to the city of Ohrid in February; a third officer is working on the border between Macedonia and Serbia.
One of the aims of the mission is to reinforce stability among Balkan states by supporting reform of Macedonia’s police force and bringing it up to European standards of policing.
The Swiss authorities say this would bolster the fight against organised crime in the Balkans and prevent its spread to Switzerland.
Four other police officers are already performing a similar role in Bosnia.
“We are fighting organised crime at the source,” said Heinrich Schneider of the Federal Police Office. “Two of our officers are also working in an area where human and drug trafficking is widespread.”
Switzerland’s participation in the Macedonia mission is also recognition of the EU’s increased presence in southeastern Europe.
The Swiss have traditionally supported missions by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in the region, but admit today that the EU carries far more weight than it used to.
“If we take part in these missions, we become a serious partner for the Union,” said Carine Carey, a spokeswoman for the Swiss foreign ministry.
Switzerland has also voiced interest in taking part in the EU’s multinational stabilisation force in Bosnia, which should take over from Nato by the end of the year.
The government has suggested sending 20 members of the armed forces, who would carry out observation and liaison missions.
Nato peacekeepers have been operating in Bosnia since the end of the Balkan conflict in 1995.
But the alliance wants to hand over its mission to the EU. It would be the bloc’s first major military mission, with 7,000 troops on the ground.
swissinfo with agencies
18 Swiss police officers are seconded to missions abroad.
Three are working in Macedonia to help reform the police.
Four others are on a similar mission in Bosnia.
Besides Bosnia and Macedonia, Swiss police officers can be also found in Kosovo, Georgia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The 25-nation Proxima mission is due to end in December.
The three police officers involved are part of a group of experts set up by the foreign ministry, which has around 80 people on various missions at any given time.