EU force deployment in Congo can start 'in May'

4th April 2006, Comments 0 comments

4 April 2006, BRUSSELS - Deployment of a European Union military force in the Democratic Republic of Congo could start in the second half of May, ahead of planned elections in June, a senior EU military official said Tuesday.

4 April 2006

BRUSSELS - Deployment of a European Union military force in the Democratic Republic of Congo could start in the second half of May, ahead of planned elections in June, a senior EU military official said Tuesday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the German- led EU operation - expected to include about 1,500 soldiers - would focus on deterring potential trouble-makers from endangering the planned polls but would also reassure Congolese voters.

"The mere presence of EU soldiers will provide significant additional security to the electoral process," the official insisted.

In a "worst case" scenario, a strategic reserve of additional EU troops would be available to back up the operation, he said.

The main aim of the EU mission - a symbol of the bloc's growing defence and military capability and ambitions - will be to provide support to United Nations troops currently in Congo.

EU troops will also ensure security of the Kinshasa airport and be ready to evacuate international election monitors in case of violence.

About 1,500 EU soldiers will be deployed for the operation but only about 400-450 will actually be in and around Kinshasa. The rest will be stationed in neighbouring African countries or on standby in Europe but will be "quickly deployable within less than 24 hours," the official said.

Countries taking part include mission leader Germany as well as Belgium, France, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Ireland, Finland, and Austria.

"We have a solid basis for a multinational force," the military official said.

The operational headquarters for the mission will be the German armed forces command centre in Potsdam, near Berlin. France will provide the force headquarters in Kinshasa.

The German parliament must still approve the mission. However, Berlin will soon appoint a military commander and start the process of "force generation" under which countries will be asked to make troop contribution pledges.

A specific UN resolution authorizing the EU deployment is also expected to be adopted shortly.

The EU operation follows a request from the United Nations for a stepped-up international security presence in Congo before, during and after national elections in June.

The United Nations has 17,000 peacekeepers in Congo but has warned that more soldiers are needed to prevent violence and ensure stability ahead of the June polls.

"Success of the elections is important not only for the Congolese people. It will have a major impact for peace and development in the region," EU leaders said at a summit last month.

The EU also conducted a military operation in Congo's war-torn Bunia province in 2003 on the basis of a UN request.

DPA

Subject: German news

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