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Sunday, 2 December, 2001, 16:03 GMT
Swiss reject plan to scrap army
Swiss army peacekeepers (photo: courtesy Swiss Army)
The government says abolition compromises neutrality
The people of Switzerland have rejected a proposal to scrap the country's armed forces.

With over half the results from the nationwide referendum in by mid-afternoon on Sunday, it became clear that the proposal had been rejected, although the exact margin was not yet known.

The plan was put forward by a coalition called Switzerland Without an Army.

The vote was called under a law that allows anyone to demand a referendum if they collect 100,000 voters' signatures.

A similar proposal to scrap the army was rejected three years ago.

Costly army

Switzerland maintains a large, mainly-reservist army even though its last war against a foreign power was against Napoleon's invading forces in 1798.

It has been neutral since 1515, a stance it maintained throughout both world wars.

Campaigners argued the money could be spent on non-military initiatives
Every man in Switzerland has to undergo regular military training between the ages of 18 and 42.

And although the army has been scaled down by one-third over the past few years, it still has a force of 360,000 soldiers who can be called into service.

Women can enlist in the army, but only in non-combat roles.

The government plans to cut back the army even further, from 2003, but it is strongly opposed to losing the force all together.

It argues that the army safeguards the right of Swiss citizens to live in a country of peace, freedom and independence.

And it says abolishing the army would force Switzerland - which is not a member of the UN, the European Union or any military alliance - to rely on other countries, contradicting its tradition of neutrality.

Army opponents say there is no point in neutral Switzerland maintaining a fighting force, which they claim costs more than $5.5bn a year to maintain.

Abolishing the army, they say, would free up resources and people - allowing Switzerland to invest instead in non-military initiatives, both at home and abroad.

The BBC's Emma Jane Kirby reports from Geneva
"It is clear that Switzerland's armed forces are not under serious threat"
See also:

27 Sep 01 | Europe
Switzerland and the gun
10 Jun 01 | Europe
Swiss army vote on knife edge
26 Nov 00 | Europe
Swiss vote against army cuts
15 Jul 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Swiss on the cycle warpath
23 Aug 99 | Europe
Swiss 'secret army' scandal
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