After more than a decade of helping to keep the peace in Kosovo, Switzerland plans to maintain its armed contingent in the western Balkans country but is reducing the size of the force.
The Swiss cabinet on Thursday said it has reduced the maximum authorised strength of Swisscoy, which has been Switzerland’s contingent within the Kosovo multinational force (KFOR) since 1999.
Swisscoy’s mandate also was extended until the end of 2020 – and the cabinet said it “reserves the right” to increase troop numbers again if needed for short-term maintenance or for security to handle an increased threat.
“Stability in the western Balkans, including in Kosovo is essential for the security of Switzerland,” the cabinet said in a statement, adding that the Swiss military commitment to further peace in Kosovo depends on strengthening military peacebuilding “both quantitatively and qualitatively”.
Nonetheless, the cabinet’s decision will reduce the maximum authorised strength of Swisscoy down to 190 soldiers, from its current level of 235 soldiers, over the next several years. The cuts will mainly affect Swiss efforts to aid with transport and engineering.
Kosovo has been on the mend since the 1999 war between ethnic Serbs and Albanian Kosovars, but many Kosovars, particularly young people, are leaving to escape the widespread poverty and unemployment. Much of the infrastructure is repaired, and one of the promising sectors is tourism.
Switzerland is following a general trend observed among KFOR troops, which has reduced the size of its overall force since 1999 from 50,000 to 4,650. Further reductions are planned to 2,600 peacekeepers by 2020.
In addition to the Swisscoy company, today 32 Swiss nationals are also serving in peace support operations as military observers and staff officers in the following countries: 15 Swiss officers in the Middle East, four in the Democratic Republic of Congo, two in South Sudan, six in Mali, three in Kashmir and two in the Western Sahara.
The country has been involved in truce supervision work following the Korean War. Today, five Swiss and five Swedish officers are on duty for the NNSC (Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission in Korea) and are stationed in Panmunjom, immediately south of the north-south demarcation Line.
Their main task consists of monitoring the armistice, although only on the southern side of the border since 1995. Swiss election observers have been sent to Africa and eastern Europe.
Since the end of November 2004, Switzerland has been participating in the EUFOR ALTHEA mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Sixteen officers and non-commissioned officers work as liaison and observation teams in Mostar and Trebinje.
Four other staff officers are based in Sarajevo. In June 2011, Switzerland expanded its support of EUFOR to include a mobile training team.