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Germany

Congo Deployment Meets Muted Reponse in Germany

Germany has so far shown little interest in sending peacekeepers to conflict-torn Congo to reinforce UN troops, suggesting it might step up its deployment in the Balkans instead while France gets involved in Africa.

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Germany has misgivings about its peacekeepers confronting child soldiers

The German government wants to avoid sending soldiers to Congo, according to a newspaper report.

Citing government sources, the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger newspaper reported that Berlin would "at the very most" send transport jets and medical aid to the strife-riddled African nation and that the involvement would be more like a police mission.

The newspaper added that the German government was "miffed" at the fact that French President Jacques Chirac had talked about sending a so-called EU battle group, consisting of 1,500 German soldiers and 4 French soldiers and which is still being set up, to Congo.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had dissuaded Chirac from doing so, the paper reported.

"Opponents could be child soldiers"

German ministers have not explicitly ruled out sending peacekeepers to Congo, which has seen an upsurge in rebel and militia violence in the volatile east this month. But many have expressed reservations.

Deputy Defense Minister Christian Schmidt told daily Berliner Zeitung this week that in light of its historic experience, Germany placed high demands on its troop deployments and that these could probably not be met in Africa.

Kindersoldaten in Kongo

Thousands of child soldiers are believed to be recruited in rebel Congo militia groups

"You don't know who the opponent is or whether there is one," Schmidt said. "It could also be that the opponents are child soldiers," he added.

Federal Commissioner for Military Affairs, Reinhold Robbe said Germany could only send a few specialists to Congo.

"We're already involved in various parts of the world; the German army is already overburdened."

However, Schmidt has suggested that Germany could possibly send more soldiers to peacekeeping missions in the Balkans if France wanted to be part of peacekeeping in Congo.

Deteriorating security

The present debate was triggered by a United Nations request for EU troops to reinforce the 15,700-strong UN force in Congo, the world body's largest and costliest mission, which is trying to beef up security in the lead-up to general elections due by the end of June.

The security situation has worsened after UN troops stepped up operations against Congolese, Ugandan and Rwandan rebel groups in Congo's east. The offensive has now taken the lives of at least 20 peacekeepers. The 1998 - 2003 civil war in this vast central African nation the size of Europe claimed the lives of at least four million people.

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