Belgium offers 400-500 troops to EU's DR Congo force

11th December 2008, Comments 0 comments

Defence Minister Pieter De Crem said Belgium would be willing to provide hundreds of troops.

BRUSSELS - Belgium offered Wednesday hundreds of troops for an EU military force in the Democratic Republic Congo, with its European partners divided over whether a mission should be sent.

Defence Minister Pieter De Crem said Belgium would be willing to provide "from 400 to 500" soldiers for the European Union contingent which has been requested by the United Nations.

"We will have to free up extra funds," he said, according to the Belga news agency, as no budget has yet been allocated for the mission.

The United Nations wants the EU to supply a "bridging force" in the east of the massive country where fighting has pitted rebels loyal to renegade general Laurent Nkunda against government forces and allied militias.

At least 250,000 people have fled their homes in recent months.

The force would fill a security gap over the four months it is expected for some 3,000 reinforcements to arrive in eastern DR Congo for the UN's 17,000-strong mission, MONUC, to which Belgium offered six aircraft last week.

But no country in the EU, increasingly criticised for its failure to act, has been willing to step forward to lead the mission, which could number up to 3,000 soldiers, and Britain and Germany in particular are against it.

Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht has been pressing his partners without result for weeks to set up the EU force, but appeared more confident Wednesday that the winds were about to change.

"I think that at a certain moment Europe will send a mission," he said, adding that EU foreign ministers would discuss the issue late Thursday, on the sidelines of the bloc's end of year summit in Brussels.

He expressed hope for an EU response within "one or two weeks".

In a letter to UN foreign policy chief Javier Solana last week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the force would help ensure the delivery of aid, provide security and "create space for political and diplomatic initiatives".

"The rapid deployment of such a force would constitute a powerful political message to both the parties to the conflict and the people of the DRC that the entire international community is determined not to allow a further deterioration of the situation in eastern Congo," the letter said.


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