Switzerland becomes newest UN member

Switzerland becomes 190th member of the United Nations

After hundreds of years of neutrality, Switzerland became the 190th member of the United Nations on Tuesday.

Switzerland's entry into the UN was one of the first orders of business in the new session of the General Assembly.

The country was the first to decide to join the UN after a referendum. About 55 per cent of Swiss voted in favour of membership during a poll in March.

Switzerland's tradition of neutrality goes back to the 17th century. It was reconfirmed at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and became part of its constitution in 1848. But a growing number of Swiss believed the idea of neutrality became irrelevant with the end of the Cold War.

Membership in the UN does not officially end the policy of neutrality, but will make Switzerland more active on the international stage.

While its membership is new, Switzerland has long had a relationship with the UN. It had observer status at the international body. And the UN's European headquarters in Geneva is the second-largest UN centre after New York.

Switzerland's new status will allow it to vote at the General Assembly, introduce resolutions and serve on UN bodies.

East Timor, which gained its independence from Indonesia in May, is expected to become the 191st member of the UN later this month.