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Germany

Belgium Asks Germany to Send Troops to Congo

After receiving an official request from Belgium, Germany now says it is considering sending a military contingent to the Democratic Republic of Congo to aid European soldiers currently operating there.

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Soon to be a common sight -- more German soldiers in Africa?

On Friday the German defense ministry confirmed earlier reports it had been asked by Belgian military officials to send a stabilization force of army officers to the central African country. A spokesman for the ministry said the request was being seriously considered but a final decision was still open.

Defense Minister Peter Struck has indicated he will agree to Belgium's request on the condition that parliamentary backing is not necessary to launch the mission, according to a report in the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper on Saturday. In the majority of cases, the decision to send German troops abroad hinges on parliamentary approval.

Bundestag Abstimmung über Kongo Einsatz

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, center, casts his vote for the deployment of German troops during a UN-led peacekeeping mission in Kongo in the German parliament in Berlin on Wednesday, June 18, 2003. Defence Minister Peter Struck is second from right, Interior Minister Otto Schily is at right.

Last July Germany participated in an EU-led peacekeeping mission to the heavily embattled eastern provinces of Congo, but contribution was limited to logistical aid for other forces already operating on the ground. Although the mandate passed through parliament with a clear majority, Berlin balked at approving further German involvement and the mission was limited to 350 soldiers and a two-month mandate without renewal.

United Nations peacekeeping troops took over after the Europeans left and have been struggling to maintain peace in the region since September 2003. Since 1999 ethnic violence in the eastern Ituri region has claimed about 50,000 lives.

Belgium aids former colony

A bloody civil war has raged in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the past several years. Between 1998 and December 2002, the country was brutally torn apart by conflicting rebel fronts and more than 2.5 million people died in the fighting.

Since then a new unity government has been established and is now engaged in rebuilding the country's main institutions, including the military. As a former colonial power, Belgium agreed last month to train part of the new Congolese army and sent 200 soldiers to provide assistance. The requested German officers are intended to help provide more expertise in this area.

On the African continent Germany currently has military observers in Ethiopia and in the Horn of Africa as part of the international anti-terror mission "Enduring Freedom."

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