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Swiss troops set to stay on in Kosovo

Swiss troops are likely to remain in Kosovo

(swissinfo.ch)

Switzerland is set to keep its troops in Kosovo, after the government said it wanted Swiss soldiers on the ground for as long as peacekeepers remain in the province.

In its latest report on the Swisscoy contingent, the government said the troops might also be called upon to provide military help to stabilise the region.

The government called for Swisscoy to maintain an open-ended presence in the region, ahead of a parliamentary vote on the issue next year.

Swiss troops have already had their mission extended once - in December 2001 - and had their numbers increased to a maximum of 220 members. They also recently were allowed to carry arms.

Swisscoy troops are not directly involved in peacekeeping missions and provide mainly logistical support. The government wants them to stay put for as long as the United Nations administration in Kosovo, UNMIK, needs the military support of the Kosovo Force, KFOR.

In its report, the government said it envisaged a wider role for Swiss troops, including efforts to combat organised crime.

More controversially, the government said the international community expected that Switzerland would, at some point, also provide military help to stabilise the region.

This could involve taking part in combat missions - something that Swiss troops are not presently allowed to do.

Swiss interests

The report mentioned that a continuing presence in Kosovo was in the interests of Switzerland, not least because the country had taken in tens of thousands of refugees during the Balkan conflict.

During the height of the crisis in 1999, some 70,000 refugees from the region were said to have fled to Switzerland - the majority of them from Kosovo.

The government has said one of its aims is to make Kosovo safe for refugees to return home.

The 200-strong Swisscoy contingent has been providing humanitarian and logistical support to Kosovo, in the form of rebuilding civilian infrastructure - such as housing and bridges - and transporting goods and people.

The cost of supporting the Swiss mission during 2002 amounted to SFr33 million ($22.1 million).

The budget for next year has been set at SFr37.5 million.

swissinfo with agencies

Swisscoy in Kosovo

There are currently 200 Swiss troops in Kosovo.
The cost of the mission during 2002 came to SFr33 million ($22.1 million).
The government says troops might take part in future combat missions.

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