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Swiss troops in Aceh to serve unarmed

Swiss troops taking part in international relief efforts in Indonesia will be unarmed Keystone

Swiss soldiers deployed to help international relief efforts for the tsunami victims in Indonesia’s Aceh province will not carry weapons.

This content was published on January 12, 2005 - 18:58

The Swiss authorities also decided to rebuild three villages in Thailand struck by the tidal waves.

The defence ministry said the Indonesian government had given enough guarantees to ensure the safety of the up to 50 Swiss military personnel and their transport helicopters.

The decision to leave the Swiss contingent unarmed was taken after talks with the Indonesian government and the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), a statement said on Wednesday.

The security situation would be reviewed on a daily basis, an army spokesman added.

Initially the army chief announced the Swiss soldiers would be armed for their own security during their three-month mission in the tsunami-stricken Indonesian province of Aceh.

The Indonesian authorities said they would protect all foreign troops helping with aid efforts amid reports that separatist rebels in Aceh had threatened to end a unilateral ceasefire, declared in December, with Indonesian troops.

However, Indonesia wants all foreign troops to leave Aceh by the end of March.

Beside the Swiss contingent there are forces from Australia, the United States, Singapore, Malaysia, Germany, China, Spain, Pakistan and Japan deployed in Aceh.

Debt relief

The Paris Club of creditor nations, including Switzerland, on Wednesday reached an agreement to freeze debt repayment of countries hit by the Asian tsunami.

The suspension is taking effect immediately and applies to those countries that want to accept it, the Paris Club president, Jean-Pierre Jouyet, said.

The southeast Asian countries hit by last month’s earthquake have external debts of about $272 billion (SFr317 billion).

Indonesia, which owes the Club $48 billion, said it needed more donations to cope with the disaster.

Three villages

The Swiss authorities have also given further details about plans to rebuild villages in Thailand.

The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) said it would reconstruct three settlements for about 300 fishermen and their families, 150km north of the tourist resort of Phuket.

Walter Fust, who heads SDC, told a news conference in Bern on Wednesday that the priority was to rebuild a school and a healthcare centre in an initial phase.

At a later stage ports, roads, houses and other infrastructure will be rebuilt in cooperation with the Thai authorities and local craftsmen.

Fust said it would cost about SFr4 million to reconstruct the infrastructure.

During a visit to Thailand at the beginning of the month the Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, had pledged SFr2.3 million to fund the reconstruction of a devastated village.

Missing Swiss

Meanwhile 250 Swiss nationals are still missing nearly three weeks after the tidal waves struck in southeast Asia.

The foreign ministry said the number of confirmed Swiss deaths was unchanged at 23.

Overall nearly 160,000 people – mainly in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and India - have perished in the undersea earthquake and the ensuing tsunami.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The Swiss defence ministry has decided that the 50 Swiss troops should not carry weapons during their mission in Indonesia’s Aceh province.

The foreign ministry has given further details on the reconstruction of three villages in Thailand devastated by the Asian tsunami.

The Paris Club of creditor nations, including Switzerland, has agreed to freeze debt repayments of countries hit by the tidal waves.

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Key facts

The latest overall death toll in the tsunami stands at 159,000 people, with 106,000 victims in Indonesia alone.
At least 23 Swiss citizens also died in the disaster.
250 Swiss nationals are still missing.

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