A Swiss army commander has come out in favour of keeping a Swiss contingent in the Serbian province of Kosovo.This content was published on December 24, 2004 - 14:02
Hubert Bittel said Switzerland had a responsibility towards its international partners.
Bittel, commander of Swisscoy - the Swiss contingent in Kosovo - said a withdrawal would damage Switzerland’s reputation.
“We benefit from the deployment too. We must not shirk any responsibility,” said Bittel in an interview published in Friday’s edition of the Bern-based “Der Bund” newspaper.
He added that the situation in Kosovo was calm but far from stable and that violence could flare up again not only because of ethnic conflict.
Bittel said it was in Switzerland’s interest to work towards peace and stability in the United-Nations-administered region because it reduces the risk of a new wave of refugees.
“Nearly everybody here has a family member in Switzerland,” Bittel said.
An estimated ten per cent of the population of Kosovo live in Switzerland. Most of them fled their homes during the armed conflict in the Balkans during the late 1990s.
Reputation and costs
Bittel added that the Swiss military enjoy an excellent reputation among the local population.
“Unlike Nato member states, we are not seen as representatives of an occupying force. We have something like a special status,” he said.
The 214-member strong Swisscoy contingent has specialised in logistical, construction and medical duties.
Earlier this month, the Swiss government came out in favour of extending the mandate of Swisscoy until 2008.
It said peace and stability in Kosovo was one of the main aims of Switzerland’s foreign policy.
Parliament is due to discuss the proposal next year. Opponents argue the deployment is too expensive and that Swiss soldiers should not take part in international missions abroad.
Swisscoy costs SFr37.5 million ($32.8 million) per year.
Switzerland has also deployed a limited number of soldiers and army personnel in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Middle East, Georgia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Afghanistan and at the border between North and South Korea.
swissinfo with agencies
Switzerland has deployed troops in Kosovo since 1999 as part of the Nato-led Kfor.
The mandate for the Swisscoy contingent of volunteers runs out at the end of next year.
Parliament is due to discuss a renewal of the mandate for 2008.
It costs SFr37.5 million per year.
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