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War of words with Tunis heats up

Opponents of the Tunisian government staged a hunger strike in Geneva last month Keystone Archive

Tunisia has denounced the "unfriendly attitude" of Switzerland after Bern received four Tunisian human rights militants at the foreign ministry on Thursday.

The Swiss ambassador in Tunis was called to the Tunisian foreign ministry late on Thursday after the four had held talks with the Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey.

She had talked with the four, who included two lawyers – Abderraouf Ayadi and Samir Dilou – for 20 minutes.

Both had staged a hunger strike with others for a month before and during last month’s World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis to bring attention to attacks on public freedoms.

Calmy-Rey had received the lawyers with two officials of the Fribourg human rights group Vérité-Action, which had requested the meeting.

Frank and open

Swiss foreign ministry spokeswoman Carine Carey said that the Swiss ambassador’s meeting with Tunisian authorities had been “frank and open”.

A Tunisian foreign ministry source told the French news agency AFP that the Tunisian authorities “expressed their amazement and their deep regret” that Calmy-Rey had received the four.

The source argued that Calmy-Rey’s unfriendly attitude showed ignorance of Tunisian political realities.

And the “initiative” was an “inopportune gesture and inadmissible at a time when Tunisia was working to preserve the quality of relations between the two countries”.

Human rights

The foreign ministry in Bern repeated that the meeting between Calmy-Rey and the four Tunisians was “the expression of Switzerland’s interest” for the respect of human rights by all states that had signed international treaties.

It added that Calmy-Rey regularly received representatives of non-governmental organisations requesting talks with her.

On Thursday Calmy-Rey told the four that Switzerland was following the human rights situation in Tunisia.

The two lawyers wanted to thank Switzerland for its stance at the WSIS conference.

During the opening session, Swiss President Samuel Schmid had alluded to human rights abuses in Tunisia.

swissinfo with agencies

After a first phase of the WSIS in Geneva in December 2003, the second phase took place in Tunis from November 16 to 18.

Swiss President Samuel Schmid was the toast of international civil society after being the only head of state to allude to human rights abuses taking place in Tunisia.

Communications Minister Moritz Leuenberger, who came to Tunis for the final two days of the conference, denied there was a diplomatic rift over Schmid’s comments.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR