Swiss minister in Algeria rings in new era of cooperation

Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss was signalling a new beginning to Swiss-Algerian relations Wednesday by paying the first official visit to Algiers by a Swiss cabinet minister in more than 30 years.

This content was published on October 6, 1999 - 10:13

Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss was signalling a new beginning to Swiss-Algerian relations Wednesday by paying the first official visit to Algiers by a Swiss cabinet minister in more than 30 years.

Deiss is discussing political, economic and cultural relations during talks with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Foreign Minister Ahmed Attaf and Prime Minister Smail Hamdani.

The Swiss foreign ministry said the visit was also meant as a sign of support for Bouteflika, who is trying to lead the country into a more peaceful and prosperous future.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Algeria during seven years of conflict between the state and terrorist groups. The violence erupted early in 1992, when the authorities cancelled a general election in which Muslim militants of the Islamic Salvation Front had taken a commanding lead.

President Bouteflika's peace plan was approved in a September 16 referendum by more than 98 percent of voters.

The bloody conflict has aggravated an already difficult economic situation, which now sees an unemployment rate of 30 percent and difficult living conditions for average Algerians.

The International Monetary Fund has granted Algeria a $300 million credit to compensate for losses in oil exports due to tumbling prices on world markets. Algeria has the fifth largest gas resources in the world and is number 15 in oil production.

Switzerland’s ambassador to Algeria, André von Graffenried, says the Algerian government is keen to attract foreign investment and has implemented business friendly regulations in order to help create jobs.

Deiss’ talks were therefore expected to focus on how to expand economic and financial cooperation between Switzerland and Algeria, ways of boosting cultural exchanges and contacts, and whether Switzerland’s national airline Swissair would resume flights to Algeria.

Deiss’ talks in Algeria pave the way for a high-powered Swiss delegation, which will visit Algiers after Swiss parliamentary elections later this month.

Trade relations with Algeria are rather modest compared to Switzerland’s European or transatlantic trade ties.

Imports from Algeria totalled SFr198 million ($133 million) in 1998, most of which was gas, fuel and oil. Swiss exports to Algeria amounted to just over SFr100 million ($67 million).

From staff and wire reports.

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