A helicopter flies over an air base in Switzerland while carrying the country's flag. Photo: Swiss Army
GENEVA, Switerzland — Switzerland, a country famous for its neutrality, announced on Friday it wants to allow the sale of arms in countries in the grip of an "internal armed conflict", under certain conditions.
Causing outcry from opponents, the landlocked state said that "war materials" could be sold, but only if they were not used during an internal conflict.
The Swiss government said in a statement: "The delivery of war material to a country involved in an internal armed conflict must continue in principle to be refused."
However, it added, "it should now be possible to grant export authorisation if there is no reason to believe that the war materiel to be exported will be used in an internal armed conflict".
The exemption "would not apply to countries plagued by civil war, like Yemen or Syria today," the government said.
The economy ministry must now amend the ruling on war material, which will then have to be officially approved by the government.
As it is a ruling, the decision of the government cannot be the subject of a referendum, ministry of economy spokesman Fabian Maienfisch told AFP.
Explaining its decision, the government highlighted the concerns of the Swiss armaments industry, saying Swiss arms exports "have declined more or less constantly for several years".
The Swiss government said that in order to keep its "credibility", the small country must have its own security and defence industry.
Opponents to the government were outraged by the decision and cast doubt over its motives.
The Socialist Party accused it of wanting to "allow the export of war materiel to countries in the midst of civil war" to meet "the wishes of the arms industry, which has nothing to do with respect for human rights".
The Greens said the decision was unjustifiable in the name of humanitarian law, stressing that the government was going to "sabotaging" the tradition of Switzerland facilitating behind-the-scenes exchanges during conflicts.