Plan for EU troops in Centrafrica leaves UK, France lukewarm
A proposal to dispatch an EU force to the Central African Republic to help African and French troops has failed to convince defence heavyweights Britain and France, diplomats said Thursday.
Under the proposal, a unit of up to 1,500 troops known as the EU "Battle Group" -- a force designed for quick intervention abroad and currently led by Britain -- would have gone into the strife-torn country for up to four months to give a larger African force time to fan out and organise.
The UN Security Council on Thursday unanimously backed a French-drafted resolution for an African and French military intervention of about 4,800 troops to halt growing Muslim-Christian strife in the country.
The European Union proposal, which was seen by AFP, was drafted by European experts, including British and French officers.
It was backed by the EU's ECHO aid services, the UN's OCHA humanitarian affairs office and analyst groups familiar with the situation in the fraught nation such as the International Crisis Group, one diplomat said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said British diplomats had asked the European External Affairs Service (EEAS), the EU's foreign affairs corps, not to release the paper to other member states.
Britain is traditionally reticent on plans for a separate EU defence role, preferring the longstanding US-led NATO military alliance instead.
"The goal of the operation was humanitarian, more a police operation than a military operation," the source told AFP.
France meanwhile, which is sending around 1,200 troops to help restore security, has not asked partners in the 28-nation bloc for military back-up.
Asked for comment, a British official said the EEAS was studying various options.
"We support the EU assessing what more it can do to help in the Central African Republic but that process is ongoing and is at an early stage," the official said.
Though the EU is not known for fast decision-making, planning for the possible dispatch of the battle group was carried out in 10 days and finalised for approval on December 1.
The EU "Battle Group" was formally set up in 2007 but has never seen action due to in-fighting between members of the bloc over its possible deployment.
The proposal comes two weeks before an EU summit in Brussels due to discuss how best to build a common defence policy for the bloc.
The EU is the world's largest aid donor and is ready in principle to pay millions of euros in wages for the 3,600 African force due to restore security in the Central African Republic.
The paper says that "an EU military force could make a meaningful contribution to the restoration of a secure environment for the civilian population, thereby facilitating humanitarian and development assistance operations from the EU due to its central role as donor."
"Any EU operation should focus on bridging until there is a capable and credible" African force in place there, the document added.
© 2013 AFP