The Swiss troops in Kosovo with their long tradition of democracy have represented their country well, outgoing commander Stefano Brunetti tells swissinfo.
Brunetti, who has spent six months in charge of a 220-strong Swisscoy contingent, said the Swiss soldiers played a vital role in bringing stability to the region.
swissinfo: In a few days, you will return to Switzerland with the 12th Swisscoy contingent after a tour of duty – how did it go?
Stefano Brunetti: It all went very well. We succeeded in maintaining a great atmosphere and working well with troops from other nations.
We represented Switzerland very well and made a useful contribution. I am very pleased that the six months passed without major incident or crisis.
swissinfo: Since 1999 the Swiss have lent logistical support to rebuilding Kosovo; now that temporary bridges have been pulled down and water supplies restored, does Swisscoy still have enough to do?
S.B.: The security situation is still not stable and we play an essential role in stabilising the region. We do this primarily through the use of our armoured personnel carriers, which we use to carry out patrols, and by working alongside the military police.
One shouldn't forget that we also have officers in the multinational Brigade Southwest and Task Force Dulje, with important responsibilities.
I can assure you that never during the tour of duty did we have to look for work.
swissinfo: There have been frequent demonstrations and problems between the Albanian majority and Serbian minority since the bloody unrest in March 2004. How did Swisscoy respond?
S.B.: Like other nations, we have made changes to what we wear and what arms we carry. As a result, we are now in a position to deal with demonstrations in the appropriate, defensive way. We also trained alongside foreign troops in a similar position to ours, so that we quickly reached a high grade of professionalism.
swissinfo: Feedback from the locals is an important part of the job – how do you deal with it?
S.B.: Comments are analysed to get a better picture of the situation and mood of the people and to understand their worries and expectations. This helps us to plan our actions and responses better.
swissinfo: How does the cooperation between the militia soldiers from Switzerland and the soldiers from large professional armies work?
S.B.: The fact that we are essentially militia soldiers with a thorough knowledge of civil matters means we are valued by the other armies.
Swiss soldiers are usually talented linguists, highly motivated, duty-conscious, flexible and regard democratic values highly. These characteristics enable them to establish contacts immediately and to win friends.
swissinfo: What experiences will you take back with you to Switzerland?
S.B.: My experiences in Kosovo will help me a lot in my new position as deputy commander of the Swissint training centre. First of all there was the human experience as commander of a contingent active in a complex multinational environment. This is very different to serving in Switzerland.
Secondly, I was able to gain knowledge in the area of leadership in an international context. I had the opportunity to make contacts with officers from many countries, which will be useful in my future professional life.
The six months in Kosovo has been one of the most significant experiences of my career to date. I'm very happy to have done this.
swissinfo-interview: Andreas Keiser in Suva Reka
The 220-member Swisscoy contingent is part of the 20,000-strong Nato-led Kosovo Force (Kfor), responsible for maintaining peace in the Serbian province.
Swiss peacekeepers have been active in Kosovo since Kfor took responsibility for security in the region in 1999.
The Swiss government has extended Swisscoy's mandate until the end of 2008.