Asia trip builds bridges for Switzerland

In Indonesia, Calmy-Rey met leaders from several religions Keystone

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has ended a week-long trip to Asia that focused on humanitarian aid and strengthening peace in Cambodia and Indonesia.

This content was published on February 11, 2007 - 18:45

In Indonesia, her discussions also aimed at forging further economic ties between Djakarta and Bern.

Calmy-Rey, this year's Swiss president, was received with full honours when she met Cambodia's King Norodom Sihamouni in Phnom Penh and Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Djakarta.

"This is another step towards Asia, a continent in which we have many expectations and have decided to strengthen our presence," she told swissinfo at the end of her visit.

Discussions with the Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, do not appear to have made any great progress. Switzerland supports the process of democratisation in the country, which according to the Swiss foreign ministry has made "remarkable progress".

However, corruption, political arrests, the impunity of the state in fraud and the lack of real separation between the executive and judiciary remain controversial issues.

It is a reality diplomatically described by Bern in the term: "many challenges remain".

Special court

Switzerland supports the creation of a special court to judge Khmer Rouge leaders for alleged crimes against humanity during the 1970s.

Hun, himself a former Khmer Rouge member, at first accepted the creation of this mixed tribunal of Cambodians and foreigners.

But the process has been blocked for more than a year after Phnom Penh disputed the number of judges each side would have. The Swiss delegation made no progress on this issue.

On the humanitarian level, Calmy-Rey made several visits to public or private projects co-financed by Switzerland. They included three in Cambodia and one in the Indonesian province of Banda Aceh on the island of Sumatra.

In Phnom Penh she paid tribute to the work of Swiss doctor and cellist Beat Richner, who offers free medical treatment to children.

But Calmy-Rey raised questions about the future of Richner's foundation, its financing and financial support from the Cambodian authorities.

Economy and politics

In the Indonesian capital, her talks with President Yudhoyono turned more towards the economy and politics.

"Switzerland is very important for Indonesia," commented Yudhoyono, to which Calmy-Rey replied: "Indonesia is of capital importance to Switzerland".

Both underlined increasing Swiss investments, which in 2005 totalled SFr3.5 billion ($2.81 billion). Switzerland is the second-largest investor in the country after the United States, Calmy-Rey noted.

About 70 Swiss companies, including ABB, Ciba Specialty Chemicals, Credit Suisse, Nestlé and Novartis, are present in the island nation, employing around 60,000 people.

Bern and Djakarta are preparing framework agreements in the economic sector, with Switzerland insisting on binding legal aspects.

The Swiss delegation met Swiss and Indonesian business leaders in a move to build new bridges between the two countries.

But juridical uncertainties and widespread corruption in Indonesia remain.

According to observers, the aim of strengthening bilateral relations by concentrating on trade and political aspects at the same time as exerting a "little" pressure on human rights and good governance was a success.

"We will reap the benefit of [our] contacts over time. You need patience but we have to make efforts. The country has enormous dimensions and potential. We cannot afford to be the last to arrive," she said.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Area: 181,035 sq km
Inhabitants: 14 million
GDP per capita: $346
Swiss residents: 114

Area: 1.9 million sq km
Inhabitants: 222 million
GDP per capita: $1,258
Swiss residents: 786

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Drinking water

At the end of her visit to southeast Asia, Micheline Calmy-Rey opened a drinking water treatment plant in the Indonesian province of Aceh. It was rebuilt with the help of private and public funds from Switzerland after the tsunami of 2004.

The Lambaro plant will supply up to 290,000 people a day with 150 litres of drinking water per person. The project was initiated by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

Switzerland is actively supporting the peace process that started in the conflict region after the tsunami and which led to the signing of an agreement between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement in Finland in August, 2005.

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