Switzerland moves closer to arming its peacekeepers

Switzerland's House of Representatives has approved a proposal to allow Swiss soldiers to carry weapons on peacekeeping missions abroad. The reform is part of a wider overhaul of the country's military laws.

This content was published on March 14, 2000 - 12:01

Switzerland's House of Representatives has approved a proposal to allow Swiss soldiers to carry weapons on peacekeeping missions abroad. The reform is part of a wider overhaul of the country's military laws.

The House of Representatives voted for the proposal by 84 votes to 49, with 30 abstentions.

The ruling paves the way for the bill to go before the Senate. If approved there, opponents of the reforms will almost certainly force a nationwide vote on the issue.

The president and defence minister, Adolf Ogi, has long advocated arming Swiss soldiers on missions abroad. Since last October, the cabinet has been pressing parliament to approve a change in the law to make this possible.

But the issue arouses strong emotions, because it goes to the very heart of Swiss neutrality.

Opponents of the bill count President Ogi's own party - the People's Party - among its ranks, and its most vocal supporter is Christoph Blocher, a member of the party's Zurich branch. He ^has made it clear he will try to force a referendum against the proposal.

The public mood is more difficult to gauge, although last October, an opinion poll carried out by the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation found that most Swiss are in favour of arming troops abroad.

A commission, appointed by the government to look into the issue, came out strongly in favour of arming Swiss troops. It said this was necessary because of the growing need for peacekeepers, and the limitations on those without arms.

The commission also pointed out that the Swiss army would lose its credibility as a peacekeeping force if it wasn't armed.

Currently, there around 200 unarmed Swiss military personnel taking part in peacekeeping missions in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

swissinfo and agencies

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