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Gulf Crisis Renews Debate on Sweden’s Neutrality

September 1, 1990

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ The detention of Swedes in Iraq has revived the debate over Stockholm’s traditional policy of neutrality. Some Swedes, angry after seeing their captive countrymen on TV, are demanding military action.

A few young men have even called the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm, volunteering to join international forces blockading Iraq. Other Swedes suggest their country contribute forces to the military buildup in the Persian Gulf.

Successive Swedish governments have argued in favor of neutrality, allowing the country to play a mediating role in some conflicts.

It has also protected Swedes. Often citizens of neutral countries have been allowed to leave hot spots while other nationalities are detained.

Pehr G. Gyllenhammar, head of the Volvo car manufacturing empire, is one of those calling for a reevaluation of the politics of neutrality.

″The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait ... has shown a new unity between countries which earlier were in conflict with each other,″ he wrote in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.

″In this situation Sweden passes, as usual. As usual we refer to our policy of neutrality,″ he said. ″As usual we indicate a ‘special role of mediator’ which has influenced (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein’s decision to release Swedes, while holding as hostages the citizens of nations which protest and are willing to take risks.″

Iraq has seemed to take neutrality into account in its treatment of foreigners. When Saddam said Wednesday that Western women and children would be allowed to leave, Finns were the first to go.

In addition, groups of Finns, Swedes and Austrians were released from Iraq last week, while most other Westerners remained captive. But the exodus was suddenly stopped. More than 100 Swedes, many male employees of Swedish firms, were being held in Iraq.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anita Matejovsky said some of about 50 Swedish women and children in Iraq received exit visas Friday and that the rest were promised theirs on Saturday, she said.

Government officials say Swedes have been held because the country supports U.N. sanctions against Iraq. They reject suggestions that their policy toward Saddam is milder than that of other Western nations.

″We are not neutral in this crisis,″ Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson said Tuesday.

Finland and Sweden say they, like other nations, are refusing to close their embassies in occupied Kuwait, as Iraq has demanded. But the embassy buildings have actually been emptied.

Carlsson endured tough questioning on the subject during a nationally televised news conference Tuesday. He was asked whether $8.7 million in aid to Persian Gulf refugees was intended as compensation for the absence of Swedish military help.

Journalists also asked whether Sweden was not acting sharply against Iraq because it still hoped to get its citizens out.

″We have acted sharply already. We are not proceeding mildly in this question,″ said Carlsson, barely containing his anger.

But he said Sweden would not send military forces unless the United Nations specifically requests them.

Sweden, which has not fought a war in 176 years, has contributed more than 55,000 men to U.N. peacekeeping operations.

Swedes have been debating the ramifications of their neutrality policy since World War II. At that time, Nazi troops were allowed to cross Swedish territory into occupied Norway, but Allied forces were not given access to help Finland in its Winter War with the Soviet Union.

Independence-minded Lithuanians, Estonians and Latvians are still bitter about Sweden’s acceptance of the Soviet Union’s annexation of the Baltic states in 1940. Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis, on a trip through Nordic countries during the past week, has been comparing Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait to his country’s fate.

In one appearance, he asked ″whether Sweden, in the name of realist politics, would be willing to hand Kuwait to Iraq after a year of annexation.″

″Because of today’s international situation (of East-West detente), there is a tendency to question the dogma of neutrality,″ said Wilhelm Agrell, an associate professor of peace and conflict studies at the University of Lund.

″The Iraq crisis tests a new international position for Sweden, and also for many other countries,″ said Agrell. ″Sweden has answered with confusion and delay and crouches down behind the fact that it is a small country.″

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