Swiss peacekeepers in Kosovo no longer need to rely on other soldiers for protection - from October they will be issued with their own weapons.
A year after voters decided to allow Swiss peacekeepers to be armed on missions abroad, the cabinet has told Austria that the Swisscoy mission in Kosovo no longer requires its protection.
Austrian troops have been guarding unarmed Swiss soldiers in the Yugoslav province since they were deployed as part of the international peacekeeping effort in 1999.
From October, 160 Swisscoy volunteers will carry weapons for their personal defence, including assault rifles, pistols, pepper spray and submachine guns.
However, they will still not be allowed to join combat missions aimed at maintaining peace.
The Swisscoy mission will be reinforced by an additional 50 soldiers, who are to be sent to the Balkan province later this year.
Under the revised accord with Austria, Swiss infantry troops would take over some of Austria's responsibilities in the event that its troops were re-deployed on other missions.
The Swiss soldiers will also now be able to serve alongside German troops to reinforce those divisions with diminished personnel.
Unarmed Swiss troops have supporting German and Austrian troops serving with Nato's peacekeeping force in Kosovo, Kfor, since autumn 1999.
They mainly provide logistical support in and around the camp at Suva Reka in Prizren province and their mandate expires in 2003.
swissinfo with agencies