Germany ready to lead EU mission to Congo

20th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

20 March 2006, BRUSSELS - European Union governments are set to give the political thumbs up to the deployment of a German-led peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Monday.

20 March 2006

BRUSSELS - European Union governments are set to give the political thumbs up to the deployment of a German-led peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Monday.

Steinmeier, attending a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, said the operation was still conditional on a go-ahead by the German parliament.

But if other EU states were ready to participate in the mission, political accord could be reached by the bloc's foreign ministers later this week, he said.

Steinmeier said the government in Kishansa had given the green light to the deployment of EU troops but insisted that other EU states must also turn their pledges of troop contributions into reality.

Germany has said it is ready to send 500 soldiers as part of the pre-election operation but Steinmeier said Berlin's decision to use its headquarters in Potsdam for the mission was conditional on participation by other EU countries.

"If the burden is shared on the broadest European shoulders then we will take up our responsibility," Steinmeier insisted.

The German government's decision to lead the mission has, however, come under strong criticism from members of the German parliament which must approve the deployment.

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

Other EU countries which have indicated they will join the mission include France, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Ireland, Finland, and Austria.

British Defence Secretary John Reid has said London will help with planning but will not provide troops because of its commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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.

Steinmeier said German forces will be based in Kinshasa and be deployed exclusively for evacuating EU election observers if required. He said that France had agreed to cover other areas of Congo.

"After having thoroughly examined potential risks for our soldiers we have come to the conclusion that the deployment of forces under the conditions we mentioned is justifiable," the German foreign minister said.

Steinmeier said he expects the German Bundestag (Lower House) to give its approval to the mission at the beginning of May.

DPA

Subject: German news

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