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Swiss lay ground for UN inspectors in Iraq

UN Weapons inspectors could soon be returning to Iraq

(Keystone Archive)

Switzerland is preparing to send a team to Baghdad to make ready the headquarters of United Nations weapons' inspectors.

The UN declined an offer from Bern to send Swiss weapons inspectors, but said Switzerland could still play a role by helping to restore the infrastructure at the UN base.

Defence ministry spokesman, Oswald Sigg, confirmed that the UN, which Switzerland joined as a full member in September, has asked for a total of eight infrastructure specialists, including plumbers, a structural engineer, electricians and air conditioning specialists.

They would be needed to work in Baghdad for two weeks to make the headquarters habitable and they could be leaving as soon as October 19.

"At first, two to three people will be sent to Baghdad," Martin Bühler, spokesman for the defence ministry told swissinfo. "They'll find out what needs doing. Then according to their assessment of what work is needed, more people will be despatched."

New York request

"The UN weapons inspector team requested our logisticial help in the form of skilled workers via our representative in New York," Manuel Sager, chief spokesman for the Swiss foreign ministry, told swissinfo.

Bühler said he did not anticipate any problems in finding volunteers to carry out the work even though it would be "tiring because of the heat and unusual working conditions".

"We are fully prepared, but are not yet ready to go, because we still do not know what is need on the ground," he told swissinfo.

The deployment of the volunteers is being co-ordinated by the Swiss foreign and defence ministries.

Weapons inspectors

The Swiss defence minister, Samuel Schmid, offered the services of Swiss weapons experts to the UN in mid-September, but the offer was declined.

A spokesman for the foreign ministry said the UN told Swiss officials that they had enough weapons inspectors to carry out a future mission in Iraq.

Officials from the UN and Iraq held talks in the Austrian capital, Vienna, this week to discuss the return of weapons inspectors who were expelled from Iraq in 1998.

The Iraqi deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, said UN weapons inspectors would be allowed back into the country under the terms of the current UN resolution. He said a "tougher" new resolution, backed by the United States and Britain, was not needed.

No date has yet been set for the return of UN inspectors to Iraq but mid-October has been cited as a possibility.

Spiez laboratory

Switzerland had been hoping that inspectors from its Spiez Laboratory would be part of the UN team. The lab is at the heart of Switzerland's research programme into nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

In 1991 and 1998, Swiss specialists from Spiez made numerous visits to Iraq and in the 1990s the laboratory bolstered its reputation by helping Russia destroy thousands of tons of chemical weapons and poisonous waste.

swissinfo with agencies


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