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THE WORLD

Swiss File Papers to Join U.N.

July 18, 2002|From Reuters

UNITED NATIONS — Switzerland formally applied for membership in the United Nations on Wednesday, ending its longtime anxiety about joining the world body and other international organizations.

Emphasizing his country's neutrality, Jeno Staehelin, the Swiss observer at the world body, handed U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan a thick sheaf of documents and a letter signed by Swiss President Kaspar Villiger.

No date has been set for the application to be approved by the 15-member Security Council and the 189-member General Assembly, but a positive vote is a foregone conclusion in both bodies. The tiny Pacific nation of East Timor, which became independent in May, is expected to clear the membership procedure by September.

Nearly 55% of voters in Switzerland, which is home of the U.N.'s European headquarters in Geneva, approved membership in a March referendum by a margin of about 10 percentage points.

The referendum carried 12 of 23 cantons, the Swiss equivalent of states, with French-speaking areas outvoting the reluctance among rural German-language regions. The close result underscored the divisions created by the proposal.

Staehelin, in handing over the application, said his government wished that "Switzerland could join the United Nations as a neutral country and contribute to the work of the organization as a neutral country."

In response, Annan said, "We really look forward to working with Switzerland as a member of the United Nations, and I wish to congratulate you and your government and the Swiss people for having taken what I consider a wonderful and wise decision."

Switzerland has participated in U.N. agencies since the 1950s.

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