Switzerland renews offer to help in Korean reunification process

A Korean family is reunited for the first time in over 50 years Keystone

Switzerland has again signalled its willingness to mediate in talks between North and South Korea, as the two states edge closer after 50 years of hostility.

This content was published on August 16, 2000 minutes

The Swiss mission at the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, which monitors the 47 year-old ceasefire between the two Koreas, is also willing in principle to take on additional tasks.

Switzerland's willingness to play a greater role in the region comes as North and South Korea take the first concrete steps towards forging closer ties. The moves come in the wake of a summit between the two countries in June.

For the first time in half a century, 100 people from each of the two Koreas were allowed on Tuesday to visit members of their families across their respective borders.

The Swiss foreign ministry said Berne was following developments on the Korean peninsula with interest. Spokeswoman Daniela Stoffel told swissinfo that Switzerland had regularly offered to act as a mediator in the past, but that Berne's good offices were probably less in demand now that the rivals had established top-level contacts.

Stoffel said the offer remained, but that it was up to the parties involved to ask if they wanted Switzerland to take a more active role.

Switzerland has maintained diplomatic ties with both Koreas and also provided the venue - Geneva - for several rounds of talks between them and the United States and China.

On the ground, the Swiss members of the commission overseeing the armistice agreement which ended the Korean War in 1953, have noticed the thaw in relations.

The current head of the Swiss delegation, Adrien Evéquoz, told swissinfo there had been a number of meetings at the Panmunjom border crossing between officials from North and South Korea over the past weeks.

But he said that, for the time being, Switzerland was playing no direct role. "In the past our role has always been a limited one. But we are ready to take on additional tasks as long as the parties involved and the Swiss government agree", Evéquoz pointed out.

Possible tasks could include supporting a programme to reunite families, re-activate traffic links between the two countries, or help in locating anti-personnel landmines along the border.

The Swiss mission at Panmunjom currently counts five members, but used to number 100 when it was started in 1953.

Despite not being a member of the United Nations, Switzerland has also provided army personnel to UN missions in Namibia, the Western Sahara and Tajikistan. In addition, Swiss military observers are in action in Georgia, the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia.

The Swiss army has also been providing support for a multinational body in Bosnia-Herzegovina and is taking part in the peacekeeping operation in Kosovo.

by Urs Geiser

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