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Swiss visit breaks ice in Nicaragua

For the first time in six years, a high-ranking Swiss development aid official has been visiting Nicaragua - a sign that poisoned relations are on the mend.

The two countries fell out in 1998, when former president Arnoldo Aléman expelled a Swiss aid official over "differences of opinion".

The director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Walter Fust, took the unusual step of publicly expressing support for the country's anti-corruption campaign, during his visit to the Central American country.

He made the remarks during talks with the Nicaraguan president, Enrique Bolaños.

The visit is a sign that the "difficult years" are over, the SDC's programme officer for Central America, Adrian Maitre, told swissinfo.

"We are confident that... official relations have been normalised completely and are as warm and as heartfelt as they were before."

Solidarity

He said Fust had made clear his support for Bolaños' anti-corruption policies as a "clear signal of international support and solidarity" towards the Nicaraguan government and people.

He added that elements within Nicaragua were hostile to the government's anti-corruption efforts, and that cleaning up public life was essential to the country's development.

"If you reduce corruption in Nicaragua... scarce public funds can be used more efficiently for development. Private investments are [also] likely to rise - that is what Nicaragua urgently needs," said Maitre.

The SDC has been active in the country since the 1980s and donates some SFr12 million ($8 million) annually to projects in agriculture, sanitation and developing private sector activities, with an emphasis on women and small businesses.

Relations between the two countries turned sour in 1998, when the then head of the SDC mission, Peter Spycher, was thrown out over "differences in opinion".

swissinfo

Key facts

Switzerland's highest-ranking aid official pledged his support for Nicaragua's fight against corruption.
The visit is seen as a sign that relations between the two countries have returned to normal.
Ties soured when Nicaragua expelled the head of the SDC mission in 1998.

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