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Switzerland bans planes from airspace

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By Balz Bruppacher

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March 20, 2003  |  BERN, Switzerland (AP) -- Switzerland on Thursday banned American and other military planes from its airspace during the war in Iraq, expressing regret the United States acted without U.N. approval.

The airspace ban is similar to one enacted during the 1991 Gulf War _ although Switzerland did allow some U.S. ambulance flights to cross during that conflict.

The Swiss government said last month it would repeat the ban if there was a new war in Iraq, and U.S. diplomats in Bern said then they respected Swiss neutrality.

The Cabinet decided to apply the nation's strict neutrality rules because the U.S.-led attack did not have the backing of the U.N. Security Council, said the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs.


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Switzerland also banned exports of government-owned military material to all countries participating in the war. Private manufacturers can continue exporting weapons, but they must prove any sales are not to be used in the war.

President Pascal Couchepin told lawmakers he regretted the U.S. decision to bypass the Security Council but said the Iraqi government bore "heavy responsibility" for the outbreak of war.

Despite its neutral history, Switzerland is not indifferent to "grave threats posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or by large-scale terrorism," the president said.

Swiss officials said they planned to contact U.S. authorities and ask them to ensure international humanitarian rules -- like the Geneva Conventions -- are respected during the conflict.


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