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EU ministers examine DR Congo force options

Published on December 12, 2008
BRUSSELS – European foreign ministers examined Thursday possible options for a military force in the Democratic Republic of Congo but made no final decisions on the best approach, officials said.

"It was a first discussion," one EU diplomat underlined after the ministers had mulled over a number of military options drawn up by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, which were presented to the ministers.

When asked what option the bloc, increasingly criticised for failing to act in eastern DR Congo, was leaning toward, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said: "Too early to tell."

Solana was asked by the ministers here Monday "to quickly prepare the technical, humanitarian and political elements of a response" to a UN request for the EU to send troops.

The United Nations has asked 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 EU country 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.

Among the options being considered, the diplomat said, is the use of EU battle groups, rapidly deployable but as yet never used forces of around 1,500 troops that the EU keeps on standby for use in trouble spots.

Another is to deploy a specific kind of European force, modelled on the 3,300-strong contingent sent to Chad to help provide security for refugees from the conflict in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region.

Both these options would require the unanimous agreement of all 27 EU member countries.

Yet another possibility, which would skirt this problem, is for one or a small number of nations to work alone and build a force.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn warned: "If we send troops, we have to define their mandate, and secondly should they be integrated into MONUC?"

"These are questions that will have to be answered in coming days and next week," he said. Solana is scheduled to hold talks with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York on Monday.

So far only Belgium, the former colonial power in DRC, has offered any troops, committing this week to send 400-500 soldiers.

"It has to be understood that (military) capabilities in EU countries are limited" at the moment, Asselborn said.