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Switzerland moves closer to arming peacekeepers abroad

The Swiss army has moved a step closer to being allowed to carry arms on peacekeeping missions, after a parliamentary commission argued that soldiers working in dangerous areas needed to be able to protect themselves.

This content was published on January 25, 2000 - 20:56

The Swiss army has moved a step closer to being allowed to carry arms on peacekeeping missions, after a parliamentary commission argued that soldiers working in dangerous areas needed to be able to protect themselves.

The recommendations of the Commission on Security Policy will come as a welcome boost to the Swiss government's proposal to arm its peacekeepers. But whether they will have any practical effect remains to be seen.

Keith Krause, an independent analyst at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, says the recommendations are unlikely to affect Swiss peacekeepers already deployed, such as those in Kosovo.

But he said the Commission's decision was politically significant because "it highlights that Switzerland is slowly moving closer to meaningful participation in multi-lateral peacekeeping activities".

However, attempts to push the proposal through parliament are likely to meet with strong opposition. Switzerland's main political parties are split on the issue, and those divisions extend to factions within the parties themselves.

The Christian Democrats are most strongly in favour of the proposal. Their spokesman, Paul Velber, says Swiss troops should be able to defend themselves. "We don't believe that taking part in peacekeeping operations means giving up neutrality. That's why we support the government's plans."

One faction within the Swiss People's Party, by contrast, is totally opposed to Swiss involvement in peacekeeping generally. The party's spokeswoman, Irene Schellenberg, says this faction wants Switzerland to "concentrate on humanitarian aid".

The House of Representatives is due to vote on the issue in the spring, but that will not necessarily mean an end to the debate. Opponents in the Swiss People's Party say they will try to force a nationwide vote, if parliament comes out in support of the measure.

From staff and wire reports

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