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Swiss troops could be sent to Baghdad

A mercenary secures the area after a truck was hit by a roadside bomb in Baghdad last month Keystone

The government is considering sending Swiss soldiers to Baghdad to replace a private security force protecting its mission in the city.

This content was published on May 27, 2004 - 18:00

The announcement follows criticism of the government over its decision to hire the South African firm.

“The foreign ministry has made an informal enquiry [to deploy Swiss soldiers], and we are now looking into the possibility,” Martin Bühler of the defence ministry told swissinfo.

“We need to find out how many people would be required, how long they would have to be deployed and how much the exercise would cost,” he added.

“Of course, any Swiss deployment would have to be approved by parliament.”

The Swiss mission was reopened shortly after United States-led forces declared an end to the war one year ago.

South African company

At the beginning of this year, the foreign ministry awarded a security contract worth SFr1.6 million ($1.3 million) to the South African company, Meteoric Tactical Solutions (MTS).

MTS says it also provides protection for American officials and British development agencies, and trains Iraqi police.

However, the firm has yet to receive a licence to operate abroad, as required by South African law of all security firms.

MTS was in the spotlight earlier this year when two of its employees were jailed in Zimbabwe, accused of plotting a coup in Equatorial Guinea.

The Swiss foreign ministry defended its decision to hire MTS earlier this month, arguing that only a firm specialising in security in high-risk regions could do the job.

Fortification guards

If Swiss soldiers replace the private firm then the job is likely to fall to the country’s fortification guards, a professional unit of Switzerland’s militia army.

Fortification guards have been deployed in the past to protect the Swiss embassies in the Algerian capital, Algiers, and in Moscow.

Barbara Haering, vice-president of a parliamentary security commission, favours replacing the South Africans with Swiss soldiers.

“We would then have assurances that they are under democratic control and are trained to respect human rights,” said Haering.

The foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, is expected to have to justify her decision to hire the South African firm before parliament next week.

According to Swiss law, Swiss soldiers can be deployed abroad for up to three weeks. If the deployment lasts longer, parliamentary approval is needed.

South Africa is one of the top three suppliers of personnel for private military companies. About 1,500 South African mercenaries are believed to be working in Iraq.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Switzerland is represented in Baghdad by a chargé d’affaires, a counsel and two development-aid workers.
The Swiss mission is protected around the clock by a private South African security firm.
The contract with the South African firm is worth SFr1.6 million.

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