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Switzerland to strengthen global peace mission

Secretary of State, Franz von Däniken, thinks the department needs more financial flexibility for peace efforts

(swissinfo.ch)

The foreign ministry has vowed to maintain Switzerland's role as a peace mediator. At a press conference in Bern on Monday, the secretary of state, Franz von Däniken, announced that his department was preparing draft legislation that would allow greater financial flexibility to carry out its efforts.

The proposed law would provide a legal basis for determining future Swiss peace operations, as well as establish a solid financial foundation for achieving those aims.

Instead of the SFr40 million allocated annually, parliament could choose to vote for a three-year budget of between SFr120 and SFr150 million. Such a move would greatly assist the development of longer-term strategies in countries where there were no quick-fire solutions, said von Däniken.

However he told swissinfo that the current budget was more than enough to enable Switzerland to maintain its role in the global peace arena.

"I think we could usefully commit additional resources in order to strengthen our position but I think with SFr40 million this is already a substantial programme," said von Däniken.

"I think it is essential to make the best use of that money and to focus on certain areas in order to create a massive input in country X or Y."

Diplomacy has changed

Over the years the nature of armed conflict has changed, with wars erupting between ethnic and religious factions rather than between nations.

According to von Däniken, the traditional path of diplomacy was no longer the most effective means of achieving peace. He said peace-building projects, along with international partnerships and alliances, now appeared to be the path forward.

Von Däniken cited the Group of Friends initiative in Colombia, which has brought together Cuba, France, Norway, Spain and Switzerland to monitor peace talks between the government and FARC rebels, as a successful example of the new response.

"It has been a mixture of various reasons and factors which has convinced the Swiss government that we should be more active in that particular country," he said.

"We are supporting first humanitarian rights organisations, strengthening respect of human rights, and then humanitarian assistance is an important element."

Last year 64 per cent of the Swiss state department's budget was allocated to local projects while another 32 per cent helped to send more than 240 Swiss experts on peace missions to work as election or human rights observers, civilian police officers, customs experts, forensic doctors or media specialists.

The priority remained southeastern Europe and the troubled regions of Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Macedonia where three-quarters of the Swiss experts were sent.

Looking ahead, von Däniken told swissinfo that he wanted to maintain Switzerland's commitment to countries such as Colombia, Burundi and Sudan.

"I think areas and countries such as Sudan and Burundi should remain a focus," he said. "I think we should avoid that we become active in too many places.

"One country where the situation is really distressing to me is Afghanistan. Because we are very active with regard to humanitarian assistance I think it would be most desirable if Switzerland could play a certain role, but it is very difficult to see how you could politically become engaged in that country."

swissinfo with agencies


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