Swiss to arm civilian observers for Kosovo duty

BERNE, Jun 20, 2000 -- (Reuters) The Swiss cabinet will allow Swiss civilian peacekeepers carry arms on foreign missions, freeing them to serve with UN troops in Kosovo, the government said on Monday.

"The Swiss Federal Council has decided that in future, Swiss civil police observers can carry weapons in order to carry out their mission," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The decision means the Swiss can follow up on a plan to send up to 20 civilian observers to the southern Yugoslav province of Kosovo where minority Serbs and majority ethnic Albanians have been at loggerheads. The province is now effectively under international rule.

Neutral Switzerland is weighing up a possible application for full membership of the United Nations. Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss has thrown his weight behind the campaign in the belief that his country needs to increase its international stature.

Although Switzerland hosts the European headquarters of the United Nations, the country has UN observer status, a distinction it shares with the Vatican. The tiny Pacific nation of Tuvalu won approval to become the 189th full UN member earlier this year.

The Swiss distinguish between civilian police observers and "army" personnel. The latest decision doesn't change Swiss law which bars soldiers from carrying weapons in foreign conflicts.

Switzerland now has 14 observers on other missions - 12 with UN troops in Bosnia and two with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Croatia - but they don't need weapons, a government spokesman said.

Original article