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Switzerland is nerve centre for rebel groups

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels are a thorn in the side of the Swiss authorities Keystone

Switzerland is being used as a base by criminal and rebel groups to organise and fund their activities abroad, says a new police report.

This content was published on July 10, 2002 - 17:12

The annual report from the Federal Police Office, said militant groups from the Balkans and Sri Lanka were particularly active in Switzerland last year.

It added that ethnic Albanians and Tamil Tiger rebels used the country as a safe haven and logistics centre to direct guerrilla campaigns.

"Members of international criminal and extremist organisations use Switzerland as a safe haven and dissemination point of propaganda," the report said.

"In addition, money is raised to support the violent activities of extremist groups and organisations in other countries. This applies particularly to the conflict areas in the Balkans and in Sri Lanka."

Beyond political causes, the Police Office said Switzerland served as a residence and logistics centre for economic criminals and crime syndicates operating across national borders.

Extremists

"Switzerland is a stable and calm country with a strong financial centre [and] attracts all kinds of people and groups, including extremists," Jürg Bühler of the Federal Police Office told swissinfo.

He added that Switzerland was attractive for "Tamils and certain ethnic groups from the Balkans because there is already a community established here".

He said some organisations, notably the Tamil Tiger rebels, Kurdish organisations and groups from Kosovo, regularly send their members abroad to countries like Switzerland to raise funds for their cause.

He said extremists try to use the Swiss financial centre with its high-quality services to launder money, and that other countries in Europe, notably Britain, face similar problems.

Bühler pointed out that this criminal activity has little impact on Switzerland itself because "there is very little basic criminality such murders or bank robberies".

Combating crime

Bühler said the necessary laws were in place to combat organised crime. "Our internal security services are constantly observing the situation and collecting data on suspicious groups. There is also close cooperation on an international level."

He cited a ban imposed on extremist Tamil rebel groups trying to raise funds during the celebrations of the so-called "Heroes Day" in Switzerland last December.

Bühler admitted that international cooperation on legal assistance is sometimes difficult, both because of differences of opinion with the European Union on cross-border crime, and because of the incompatibility between the legal systems in Switzerland and less developed countries.

He said, too, that Swiss judicial procedures - often slow and cumbersome - sometimes made legal assistance difficult, but that the federal authorities were given new powers at the beginning of this year to combat organised crime, money laundering and corruption.

Transit point

In the report, the federal authorities said there was no evidence that the suspects behind the September 11 attacks used Switzerland as a logistical base or for training.

So far, no networks have been uncovered in this country with Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda organisation.

However, investigators said Switzerland did serve as a transit country to other European destinations and to the US for suspected al-Qaeda members.

The Swiss government last November imposed a ban on al-Qaeda and any similar organisation from Swiss territory. The measures will remain in force until the end of next year.

No primary target

Bühler says Switzerland is unlikely to be a direct target for militant Islamic groups, but he warned that the expected increase in activities by Islamic extremists around the world could still lead to attacks against foreign institutions in this country.

He also cautioned that "Swiss citizens who travel a lot abroad have to be aware of threats in specific countries".

Drug rings

The report also said that criminal groups, notably from Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia as well as from West African countries, are in control of the trade in illegal drugs in Switzerland.

It added that many perpetrators are either in Switzerland illegally or are asylum seekers.

Illegal drugs worth an estimated SFr3 billion ($2 billion) were sold in Switzerland last year. The authorities said they confiscated more than 90 kilograms of marijuana at the border, three times more than in the previous year.

They also reported a marked increase in violent incidents related to the illegal drugs trade.

Safe country

In its overall assessment of internal security, the Office says Switzerland remains one of the safest countries in Europe, despite an increase in reported crimes.

For the first time since 1997 the crime rate rose slightly last year, but figures are far from the record number of 359,201 reported crimes registered in 1991.

However, the authorities are concerned about the increasing level of violence. In 2001 the number of reported cases of assault rose by nearly seven per cent, while violence and threats of violence against officials were up more than 11 per cent.

Right and left wing militants

The report says that compared with the previous year there were fewer incidents involving right wing extremists in 2001. At the same time the number of people active in right wing circles rose drastically in some regions.

In contrast, activities of left wing extremists increased in Switzerland as part of anti-globalisation protests and anti-fascist demonstrations, according to the authorities.

The report says the demonstrations around the summit of the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2001 showed the potential for violence by left wing extremists.

by Urs Geiser

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