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Senate agrees troops for anti-pirate force

Plans to contribute to an anti-pirate force by the European Union in the Gulf of Aden have won approval in the Senate.

The government proposal foresees sending up to 30 members of the Swiss armed forces, including special troops, medical personnel and experts on international law. The mission is limited until the end of next year.

Supporters argued that participation was a question of international solidarity, of ensuring the delivery of humanitarian aid and in the interest of Switzerland.

“Our economy benefits and it is in line with our humanitarian policy,” said Senator Claude Hêche during Tuesday’s debate.

He was backed by most members of the centre-left Social Democratic Party as well as the centre-right Christian Democrats and Radicals.

However, opponents said Swiss law did not specify participation in international policing missions on the high seas and that the mission could trigger an escalation in violence off the coast of Africa.

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey stressed the humanitarian aim of the anti-pirate force: to protect ships transporting supplies of the UN World Food Programme to developing countries.

Defence Minister Ueli Maurer said participation in Operation Atalanta meant extending the scope of foreign missions of Swiss troops and added it could lead to further requests for assistance. He called for a reform of the law, but it was rejected by the Senate.

The other parliamentary chamber, the House of Representatives, still has to discuss the issue.

Landlocked Switzerland has a merchant navy with 35 ships which is to guarantee the supply of essential goods in times of crisis.

Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch

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