Swiss troops join Bosnia peacekeeping mission
The European Union and 11 countries, including Switzerland, have taken over peacekeeping duties in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
However, Swiss participation in the mission remains controversial at home.
On Thursday the 7,000-strong Eufor mission replaced Nato, which has kept the peace in Bosnia for nine years. It is the EU's biggest military operation to date.
Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU or Nato, will deploy up to 20 officers as part of the European force.
EU officials said Brussels hoped to complete its peacekeeping mission in Bosnia within three years.
They also expressed confidence that senior war-crimes suspects, including the fugitive Bosnian Serb leaders, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, would be detained by European forces.
Switzerland's Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal, said she was very disappointed that Nato-led troops had not arrested any suspected war criminals in the past 18 months.
However, Del Ponte told Thursday's edition of the “Tribune de Genève” newspaper that she remained optimistic.
“There is new hope with the European force,” she said.
The peacekeeping mission is seen as a major test of the EU’s drive to develop a military arm, following its failure to halt the ethnic fighting that ravaged Bosnia in the early 1990s.
The rightwing Swiss People’s Party has criticised the presence of Swiss troops in the European mission, describing it as pointless.
“It’s useless to deploy Swiss officers and only costs money,” said People’s Party parliamentarian Ulrich Schlüer.
He said Swiss involvement was hypocritical and he called for an end to participation in international peacekeeping missions.
However, Swiss government officials said sending troops to Bosnia to help stabilise the country following the 1995 Dayton peace agreement was in Switzerland’s own interest.
Dante Martinelli, Switzerland’s former ambassador to the EU, said peace and stability in the Balkans also contributed to security in Switzerland.
Switzerland currently designates Bosnia as a “safe country” for returning rejected asylum seekers.
Swiss diplomat Benedikt Wechsler said the peacekeeping mission was also necessary to combat organised crime in the region and to bring to justice suspected war criminals.
Wechsler dismissed allegations that Swiss participation in the Balkans had no mandate from the people.
He said Swiss voters approved foreign missions by Swiss armed forces in 2001 and indirectly endorsed this decision two years later by giving the green light to a reform of the Swiss army.
Switzerland stationed 11 officers in Bosnia as part of the Nato’s peacekeeping force between 1996 and 2000.
It is the first time that Swiss troops will serve under the command of a European Union force. They will work in liaison and observation teams at hot spots across Bosnia.
The mission will cost the Swiss government SFr5.4 million ($4.7 million) a year.
swissinfo with agencies
Switzerland deploys up to 20 soldiers and officers to the European force in Bosnia.
Up to 220 Swiss armed volunteers are stationed in the UN-administered Serbian province of Kosovo.
Swiss staff officers and military observers have also been deployed in the Middle East, Georgia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Afghanistan.
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