Switzerland reinforces presence in Sumatra
A second detachment of Swiss soldiers has flown to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, which was hit hard by the Asian tsunami, to help out with relief work.
Switzerland has already sent 21 military personnel and three Super Puma helicopters to the island as part of a United Nations mission.
Defence ministry spokesman Felix Endrich said that the 30 soldiers had flown to Sumatra on board scheduled flights.
They will join the first contingent of personnel which arrived earlier this week in the town of Medan, 250 kilometres from the worst affected area, Banda Aceh.
Nine pilots, accompanied by mechanics, security and logistics specialists, as well as a doctor and a cook, are on their way to the province of Aceh in the north of Sumatra.
The soldiers will stay three or four weeks on the island before being replaced by fresh troops.
Led by Colonel Yvon Langel, the Swiss mission is due to last three months.
The detachment will carry out aid flights for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, with the Swiss soldiers working in close collaboration with members of the French army.
The Swiss will not be carrying arms because the Indonesian army has said it will look after their security.
“We will evaluate security every day together with the Indonesian army and the UNHCR,” said Langel.
If security is not guaranteed at a certain point, the aid flights will either be stopped or adapted.
The detachment will be in permanent contact with the authorities in Bern but the operation will also be coordinated with the armed forces of other countries.
The Swiss soldiers, some of whom have served in the Serbian province of Kosovo, have been prepared for their mission by a team of psychologists.
swissinfo with agencies
The Super Puma helicopters will begin their flights for the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, on Monday.
Swiss soldiers will not be armed.
The cost of the Swiss mission is up to SFr3 million ($2.56 million).
The foreign ministry says that the number of Swiss missing after the December 26 tsunami has fallen further to 240.
But it warns that that figure could rise after checks by cantonal police forces.
Twenty-three Swiss died in the tidal wave, with a further 90 presumed dead.
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