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GENEVA: Switzerland on Wednesday approved the export of 25 tanks back to Germany after Berlin gave assurances that it would not break Swiss military neutrality laws by re-exporting them to Ukraine.

The Federal Council government gave the green light to export the Leopard 2 A4 main battle tanks to their original manufacturer, Rheinmetall Landsysteme, in neighbouring Germany.

“Germany has undertaken not to send the tanks to Ukraine and given assurances that they will remain either in Germany, with NATO, or with its EU partners,” Bern said.

Switzerland currently operates 134 such tanks which have been modernised, and has 96 others which are out of use.

In February, Germany asked for some of Switzerland’s decommissioned Leopard tanks be sold back to Rheinmetall Landsysteme.

In September, the upper house of parliament in Bern approved the decommissioning of 25 Leopards on condition that they be sold back to the manufacturer.

The tanks are “not for Ukraine” and Germany’s assurances that they will stay within the EU or NATO are “of crucial importance”, the Swiss government said.

Switzerland’s long-standing position is one of well-armed military neutrality, and the landlocked country of 8.8 million people has mandatory conscription for men.

But Switzerland’s tradition of neutrality has been hotly debated since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

While the wealthy Alpine country, which is not a member of the European Union, has followed the bloc’s lead on sanctions targeting Moscow, it has shown less flexibility on its military neutrality.

Despite pressure from Kyiv and its allies, Switzerland has refused to allow countries that hold Swiss-made weaponry to re-export it to Ukraine.

To date, it has rejected explicit requests from countries including Germany, Spain and Denmark, pointing to its War Materiel Act, which bars all re-export if the recipient country is in an international armed conflict.

Switzerland cannot participate in wars between other countries, forge military alliances, or grant troops, weapons or territorial transit rights to warring parties.

Swiss neutrality traces its roots back to 1516 and has been internationally recognised since 1815. The foreign ministry says it “ensures the country’s independence and the inviolability of its territory”.

The neutrality laws do not apply to civil wars, or military operations authorised by the UN Security Council.

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