Swiss soldiers serving in Kosovo will carry arms from October of this year, according to a statement released on Thursday by the Defence Ministry. The ministry is also to ask parliament to extend the troops' mandate until 2003.
The number of Swisscoy troops stationed in the region will also increase from 160 to 220. In addition, the ministry is sending five tanks and a Super Puma helicopter to assist Swiss soldiers in Kosovo.
The government has also announced that the Swiss mission in Kosovo will be extended beyond its existing mandate, which runs until the end of the year. Subject to parliamentary approval, the Swisscoy contingent will now stay in the region until 2003.
Unarmed Swiss soldiers have been in Kosovo since autumn 1999, supporting German and Austrian troops serving with Nato's KFor unit.
They are mainly providing logistical support in and around the camp at Suva Reka in Kosovo's Prizren province.
The Swiss people voted in a national referendum last June to allow the arming of Swiss peacekeepers abroad and permit joint military exercises with other countries.
swissinfo with agencies