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Switzerland bans US military planes

Switzerland on Thursday banned US and other military planes from its airspace for the duration of the war on Iraq.

india Updated: Mar 20, 2003 19:24 IST

Switzerland on Thursday banned US and other military planes from its airspace for the duration of the war on Iraq.

President Pascal Couchepin told lawmakers he regretted the launch of the US-led attack, saying it was not authorized by the UN Security Council. But the Iraqi government bore a "heavy responsibility" for the outbreak of hostilities, he added.

"When armed conflicts break out, neutral Switzerland's role is not to take part," Couchepin told a session of the country's parliament. But this "does not mean we are indifferent when it comes to the grave threats posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or by large-scale terrorism."

During the 1991 Gulf War, Switzerland banned all warring parties from its airspace, although it did allow some US ambulance flights to cross.

When plans for a ban in the event of war were announced last month, US diplomats in Bern said they respected Swiss neutrality. Also Thursday, Swiss officials said they planned to contact US authorities and ask them to ensure international humanitarian rules - like the Geneva Conventions - are respected during the conflict. Swiss authorities also imposed a ban on military exports to all countries taking part in the Iraq war.

The country's seven-member cabinet decided to apply Switzerland's strict neutrality rules because the US-led attack did not have the backing of the UN Security Council, making it "a conflict between nations," said the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs.

First Published: Mar 20, 2003 19:24 IST