Germany to decide about Congo mission in May

22nd March 2006, Comments 0 comments

22 March 2006, BERLIN - Germany will make a formal decision in May on whether to send troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo, government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said on Wednesday.

22 March 2006

BERLIN - Germany will make a formal decision in May on whether to send troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo, government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm said on Wednesday.

His comments came two days after Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Brussels that Germany was ready to lead a EU mission to safeguard elections in the central African country.

Ulrich said after a cabinet meeting that Chancellor Angelo Merkel would brief leaders of Germany's political parties next Monday on the state of preparations for the mission.

"The Congo is a country of strategic importance for the stabilization of a large part of the African continent," Wilhelm said. "Failure to achieve stabilization could trigger a renewed exodus of refugees and civil war."

The United Nations has 17,000 peacekeepers in Congo, but says they are overstretched and has asked the EU to contribute a force of 1,500 to protect the June elections, the first free presidential and parliamentary vote since independence in 1961.

Germany has been asked to contribute around 500 soldiers to the EU operation, roughly the same number as France. Other countries who have indicated they will participate are Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

Any decision by the German government needs to be approved by parliament where there is opposition to the mission from within both the government camp and the opposition.

But the ruling coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats commands 448 of the 614 seats in the lower house or Bundestag, making defeat on the issue unlikely.

In Brussels, diplomats said Germany had told a meeting of the EU's political and security committee on Tuesday that it was ready to take charge of the peacekeeping mission, using Potsdam as the operational headquarters.

EU diplomats said Berlin would soon appoint a military commander for the mission and start the process of "force generation" for the deployment of the soldiers, about 300 of whom would be based in the capital Kinshasa, with the rest in a neighbouring country or on stand by in Europe.

Diplomats said the EU force would help UN troops in ensuring security at Kinshasa airport and focus on the personal evacuation if needed of the 300 European election monitors in Congo.

DPA

Subject: German news

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