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Swiss troops help build peace in Kosovo

A dozen Albanian men unload bricks from a truck. The former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army are working alongside Swiss engineers rebuilding a school in southern Kosovo.

This content was published on November 29, 1999 - 09:21

A dozen Albanian men unload bricks from a truck. The former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army are working alongside Swiss engineers rebuilding a school in southern Kosovo.

Half a year after the war ended, most ethnic Albanians have returned to the province and are putting their lives back together, putting roofs back on their houses, returning to their jobs - their children are returning to school.

Hundreds of trucks queue at the border with Macedonia, often waiting up to a week to enter Kosovo with food aid, humanitarian and essential supplies.

But military jeeps, trucks and armoured vehicles cannot be overlooked in the traffic slowly snaking through the mountainous countryside. Their presence makes it clear that the multi-national peacekeeping force is in charge in Kosovo. Germany commands the KFOR troops in the south of the province, including a Dutch battalion, a Dutch engineering corps, a Turkish battalion and an Austrian battalion supported by Swiss troops.

The 140 Swiss live together with German, Austrian and Slovak soldiers in their camp, „Casablanca“, near the town of Suva Reka. In the „Swiss Chalet“, they relax over a beer or coffee and talk about their day in Kosovo. The Chalet is a wooden structure, which sets it apart from the factory warehouses and pre-fab containers which dominate the camp.

The contingent, SWISSCOY, is in Kosovo primarily to provide logistical support for the Austrian troops. The Swiss are also responsible for providing the camp with all its fuel and water needs. Swiss mechanics service the vehicles and Swiss cooks ensure Fondue makes a regular appearance on the canteen’s menu.
The Swiss contribution to KFOR is modest but the Swiss command point out that it is the first time Switzerland is directly taking part in an international peacekeeping mission.

In return, the Austrians provide the Swiss with security. Swiss law forbids soldiers deployed abroad from carrying weapons. Only a few Swiss soldiers belonging to a special military unit are allowed to be armed. They accompany every vehicle leaving the Casablanca compound. Austrian armoured vehicles take care of security for Swiss convoys.

Swisscoy commander Urs Maibach says if Switzerland is to again take part in such an operation, it will have to take responsibility for its own security. „There’s always a way to contribute, but it’s not easy to be here without being armed, and it limits what we can do. We should be able to protect ourselves when our soldiers are out helping rebuild the villages. We shouldn’t have to ask the Austrians,“ he said.

Austrian soldiers peer out of their armoured vehicles outside a school house in Donje, a village in the hills surrounding Suva Reka. A handful of Swiss engineers hope to put the roof back on the school before winter sets in. It wants the school to re-open for its 1,000 students by February. The reconstruction project is one of the few SWISSCOY is directly involved in.

Back in Casablanca, soldiers race against the clock to put a roof over the hundreds of portable containers before the first snowfall. The containers are made to last five years. Even though other contingents are planning on remaining in Kosovo for several years, the Swiss are due to vacate the camp at the end of 2000.

The Swiss army wants parliament to extend the mandate. SWISSCOY’s deputy commander Michael Iseli says the multi-national peacekeeping force will be needed in Kosovo for at least five years. "If you see what happened here, it’s easy to believe people when they say the ethnic Albanians and Serbs will never be able to live together again. The war in Bosnia ended a couple years ago, and the international force is still there,“ Iseli said.

Iseli can speak from experience. He has already seen action in previous United Nations missions in Tajikistan and Afghanistan, and he was in Kosovo as an observer for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe before the bombing began.

By staff member Dale Bechtel.








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