Switzerland’s economics ministry has blocked all applications for sales of war materiel to the United Arab Emirates following reports that Swiss-made hand grenades were found in Syria where government troops have been trying to crush a 16-month revolt.
The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco) said on Wednesday that investigations were continuing with other government ministries to establish the details of the alleged existence of grenades in Syria. The Swiss authorities also contacted the UAE government.
The statement said the provisional freeze was targeted at pending applications and included the return of about 20 licences already issued but only partially used.
However, it declined to elaborate. Seco said further reaching measures could only be taken when the whole matter has been sufficiently clarified.
Last year, the Emirates ordered war materiel worth SFr266 million ($279 million), mainly unarmed PC-21 Pilatus trainer aircraft, putting the gulf state top of the list of Swiss weapons imports.
Four days ago the SonntagsZeitung and the Le Matin Dimanche newspapers published the picture of a Swiss-built hand grenade apparently photographed by a reporter in the Syrian town of Marea at the end of June.
The Swiss authorities say the grenade shown in the picture was part of a shipment by the state-owned Ruag arms manufacturing company to the UAE in 2003. A senior UAE official signed a declaration not to re-export the supply any of the 225,160 grenades.
However, the exact circumstances of the recent discovery remain unclear. Seco says Switzerland stopped exports of war materiel to Syria in 1998.
A major United Nations conference to regulate the trading in arms opened in New York this week. The month-long meeting seeks to agree a legally binding instrument on international standards for the export and transfer of conventional arms.
Swiss arms exports have regularly made the news in the past.
Last year, Switzerland imposed a ban on exports to Qatar after it was revealed the munitions sold to the Gulf state had shown up in Lybia in an apparent breach of export regulations.
The ban was lifted again five months later. An investigation found a “military logistics error” was to blame for the re-export.