Switzerland takes over Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe helm

VIENNA (AFP) - Switzerland on Wednesday assumed the rotating chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), naming the Western Balkans and South Caucasus as its priorities.

During its year at the helm of the 57-member body, Switzerland vowed to make a "tangible contribution to fostering security and stability, improving people's lives and strengthening the OSCE's capacity to act".

Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter said he had appointed special representatives for each of its two priority regions.

"In the Western Balkans, we wish to make reconciliation and regional co-operation a topic of discussion," he said in a statement.

"In addition, the OSCE should play a supporting role in the implementation of (last year's) Belgrade-Pristina agreement" designed to reduce frictions between Serbia and its former province Kosovo.

"As for the South Caucasus, we will work with existing formats to support the search for a resolution to the protracted conflicts," he said, referring to a region disputed between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

"Progress can only be made step by step, and for this reason we value bringing continuity to the Organization," he added.

Switzerland which took over the chairmanship from Ukraine would also "concentrate on combating torture, respecting human rights, including minority rights, promoting democratic elections, and strengthening the rule of law in combating terrorism.

"Work to combat transnational threats generally and natural disaster preparedness and response are also high on the agenda," said Mr Burkhalter.

The minister will present Switzerland's priorities to the OSCE Permanent Council at the organisation's headquarters in Vienna on Jan 16.

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