Without Weapons: Naked Soldiers Produce Clean Water (Update: They Now Have Weapons!)
May 13, 2001 (updated January 19, 2003)
hat is a KFOR soldier without his gun? He's probably Swiss. It may sound like a bad joke, but it is true. The Swiss Company do not have guns.
The Swiss legislation prohibits the Swiss Army to carry firearms abroad, and so their missions abroad have certain limitations. Though this is their first mission as part of a multinational brigade, missions abroad are not unknown to the Swiss. They participated in Korea in 1953, later on in the Sahara in 1992, Namibia in 1994, and in Albania in 1999. All this time unarmed.
However, it does not prevent them from doing an important job. Logistics is something everybody needs, and still the logistics and the engineer soldiers often remain as unsung heroes.
It is almost so amongst the Swiss also, except their work is a highly visible. Kosovo would be bereft of a considerable amount of bridges if it weren't for the Swiss contingent, and the inhabitants of Camp Casablanca in Suva Reka would be mighty thirsty without the efforts of the same Swiss contingent.
Amongst other tasks, the Swiss supply Camp Casablanca with water. 150,000 litres of water is purified, using the latest technology, extracted from a 70 meter deep well. After the purification, the water is so pure, minerals needs to be added.
Other tasks include engineer support, a hospital, and kitchen support for Camp Casablanca. The Swiss have an impressive amount of 1000 tons of bridge material in their camp, and after the latest flooding in MNB South, they built a 40ton capacity bridge at the request from the German contingent. But in order to accomplish their mission, they are dependent of the Austrian contingent (AUCON), which are responsible for providing the security. Still, 15 men of the Swiss Company are armed.
These are professional soldiers, as the Swiss Army is mainly a body of reservists. The Swiss soldiers aren't lost when it comes to handling a gun, though. Few armies in Europe train their reservists as frequent as the Swiss army, and every Swiss reservist keeps his equipment and personal weapon at home.
But out on the mission in Kosovo, even the Swiss APC is unarmed. "This is not a good situation, neither for us or the AUCON," says Major Martin Bühler, PIO at the Swiss contingent. At home, he is the spokesperson for the Swiss Ministry of Defence. But the situation of the Swiss contingent may be about to change. Article 66, which forbids the Swiss Army to carry weapons abroad, may be subject for a change.
"The government has decided that the article 66 needs to be changed, and the parliament has agreed, but it still needs to go to a referendum, as the practice in Switzerland is," says Major Bühler. On the 10th of June the referendum will take place.
"All the soldiers are hoping for a change, and the men of the Swiss contingent have composed a letter, which will be presented to the Security Policy Commission, who is coming to assess the situation," continues Major Bühler. Still, the situation may be very different in the future, as the result of the referendum, may also be the withdrawal of the Swiss from Kosovo.
"It would be bad for the image of Switzerland, if we would have to go home over this issue, but in the end it is the people's decision," says Major Bühler, "Anyway, we try to make the best of it".
And still, the Swiss aren't completely unarmed, as they do abide by the force protection rules. The unit has a weapons pool and sign out weapons, even though none of the men has his personalised firearm. Still, it is an alarming thought if the Swiss should be subjected to any attack whilst on duty.
"We have our rules of engagement," answers Major Bühler, "And we will fire back. No one here is without protection, even though none has his own weapon".
Text source: Sgt H Walla, KFOR Online, May 10, 2001 (rewriting: Cpt Ludovic Monnerat)
Update: it must be noted that the Swiss legislation changed after the June 10 referendum was refused. Since November 2002, the Swiss soldiers are now carrying or manning assault rifles, handguns and 12.7mm machine guns during their deployment in Kosovo.