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Europe

EU Mulls Troop Presence in DR Congo

Despites appeals from the United Nations for peacekeeping troops in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the European Union is hesitant to commit. Germany, in particular, prefers a diplomatic solution.

A South African soldier mans a machine gun underneath a United Nations flag in eastern DR Congo

UN forces in DR Congo need EU reinforcement, Ban Ki-Moon says

EU foreign ministers were meeting in Brussels on Monday, Dec. 8, to discuss the UN request to send peacekeeping troops to DR Congo.

France, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, had ruled out the deployment of European forces.

But pressure on ministers to act has increased following an appeal from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who said Europe should help reinforce UN peacekeepers in the former Belgian colony until more UN troops can be deployed.

"It is urgent that we take a decision on such a bridging force (to DR Congo), which to my mind is absolutely necessary," said Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht.

De Gucht had said earlier December that an EU peacekeeping force for DR Congo would be unlikely as no one country was prepared to lead such a mission.

EU troops ready

Some 250,000 civilians have been displaced in the east of the DR Congo since the summer as a result of renewed clashes between government forces and Tutsi rebels led by renegade general Laurent Nkunda.

De Gucht said an EU mission would need up to 3,000 heavily-armed soldiers, which would fill in immediate shortages.

Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said the EU should consider deploying its battle groups.

The EU has two such corps, each consisting of about 1,500 soldiers, on standby. These troops are deployable at short notice anywhere in the world but have remained unused to date.

"If we don't send them to Congo, where do we send them?" Stubb asked.

Germany urges diplomacy

National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) rebel leader Laurent Nkunda, left

Laurent Nkunda's rebel troops have severely tested UN forces

However, EU heavyweight Germany is among those pushing for a diplomatic solution to the DR Congo crisis.

Ministers were greeted by a few dozen protesters who were calling for action on the DR Congo question, but diplomats said they did not expect any major decision to be taken on the issue at the meeting.

Monday's gathering was largely designed to prepare the groundwork for this week's EU summit of heads of state.

The situation in Zimbabwe and relations with Pakistan were also to be discussed.

Ministers were also expected to take a look at the EU's EULEX mission in Kosovo and its naval mission off the coast of Somalia. Both missions formally begin this week.

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