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Government plans to slash civil defence force

Members of the civil defence loading an aircraft with emergency aid supplies Keystone

The government has put forward plans to cut its civil defence force by more than half. It currently numbers 300,000 - one of the largest in the western world.

The ministry for defence and civil protection said on Thursday that a force of 120,000 would be more than sufficient to respond to emergencies and natural disasters.

The cuts are in line with the ministry’s plans to slash the size of the Swiss military. The ministry said it wants the changes to come into effect in 2003.

It said the new slimmed-down civil defence force would focus more on rendering aid and assistance in case of natural or man-made disasters.

If parliament approves the plan, the cantonal authorities will take over the main tasks and costs of civil defence. The federal government will decide on measures in case of armed conflict, otherwise, it will play a largely supervisory role.

An emphasis is also being placed on increased cooperation with neighbouring countries.

All Swiss men between the ages of 20 and 50 who do not do military service are obliged to serve in the civil defence force. If the reforms are approved, the age limit will be lowered to 40.

Switzerland’s civil defence strategy originated in the late 1950s in response to the Cold War.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR