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Europe

EU Refuses to Rule Out Military Option in Congo Crisis

The EU is considering taking a military role in peacekeeping in the Democratic Republic of Congo, British Foreign Minister David Miliband said.

A UN soldier patrols the streets of Goma, Congo

UN soldiers are so overwhelmed that the decision on sending troops is becoming urgent

Speaking ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Marseille on Monday, Nov. 3, Miliband said no decision would be taken until after the United Nations Security Council had met on the issue.

"We're talking about the work of the 17,000 UN peacekeepers there at the moment and the role of the European Union in supporting that politically, diplomatically, and no-one's ruling out a military role," he told reporters.

UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon has sent his deputy in charge of peacekeeping to the DRC to investigate and report on an upsurge in violence.

Aiming to avoid genocide

"It will be for the United Nations including EU countries in the UN to listen to that report," Miliband said.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, center, visits the Kibati refugee camp, north of Goma, in eastern Congo

Miliband, center, arrived with French counterpart Kouchner

Last week, Miliband's French counterpart Bernard Kouchner suggested mobilizing an EU battle group of up to 1,500 troops to provide humanitarian assistance for thousands of refugees displaced by fighting around the eastern city of Goma.

Subsequently, both ministers travelled together to the region.

"The world's political leaders are determined to make sure there's no repeat of the murderous activities of the 1990s," Miliband added, referring to the genocide in Rwanda and civil war in eastern Congo.

Miliband said Europe wanted to work to support the African Union in seeking a political solution to the crisis.

Oxfam calls for EU troops

On Sunday, Nov. 2, development charity Oxfam urged the EU to send troops to support the UN peacekeeping force.

"The European Union is well placed to rapidly provide the additional troops that the people of Congo desperately need," Juliette Prodhan, head of Oxfam in Congo, told AFP news service.

People look on as United Nations armoured vehicles patrol in Goma in eastern Congo, Thursday, Oct. 30, 2008.

Will the EU add to the UN's 17,000 Congo troops?

A ceasefire declared last week by rebels who took over parts of Goma appeared to be holding, but Prodhan warned the UN peacekeeping force must be reinforced.

"Given the fragility of the ceasefire and fears for another outbreak of intense fighting around Goma, more troops must be deployed as soon as possible," Prodhan said.

Of the 17,000 UN peacekeeping troops in Congo, only 850 of them are in Goma.

Speaking to reporters in Dar es Salaam on Sunday, where he and Kouchner held talks with Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, Miliband said: "We agree that the MONUC troops currently in the DRC are inadequate given the size of the country."

Prodhan said the European troops could help create a secure environment for humanitarian agencies to help people who were in desperate need.

Oxfam has began trucking water Sunday to people sheltering in the area of Kanyabayonga, north of Goma, and is providing water and sanitation to 65,000 people in four displaced-persons camps in Goma.

Threat from Nkunda

"The situation is currently too unstable to reach many of the people who have fled to escape the fighting," Prodhan said.

Displaced people walk on the road as they return home, Friday , Oct. 31, 2008 near Kibati just north of Goma in eastern Congo.

Weary refugees used a cease fire to try and get home

"They are dispersed over a wide, inhospitable area. Many are hiding in the forests and bush without access to shelter, water, food and medicines. We need to be able to get there so that we can help them."

Meanwhile, Congolese rebel chief Laurent Nkunda has threatened to drive the government from power unless it holds direct talks on his demands.

Rebels want direct negotiations

But the government of President Joseph Kabila moved quickly Monday to reject the demand of the renegade general whose forces have beaten the army out of several towns in the east of the Central African country, extending a decade of conflict which has seen more than three million people killed.

Dressed in a green beret, military fatigues and dark sunglasses, Nkunda accused the international community of failing ethnic Tutsis in a meeting with reporters at his jungle base on Sunday.

"We want direct negotiations with the government, I am waiting for an answer," said the 41-year-old rebel.

"It is their choice whether to refuse negotiations with us. But we are going to pressure them to have negotiations otherwise we will force them from power."

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