The European Union has decided against a possible deployment to Congo in favor of diplomatic solutions and says the presidents of Congo and Rwanda have agreed to an emergency summit to end the conflict.
The EU and US rule out troop deployments despite UN forces being overstretched
The presidents of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda, Joseph Kabila and Paul Kagame, have agreed to attend an emergency summit on the crisis in Congo, the European Commission said Friday.
John Clancy, a spokesman for EU Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner Louis Michel, said: "Presidents Kabila and Kagame have given their agreement to commissioner Michel to attend such an international summit."
In a statement in Kinshasa on Friday, Michel called for a summit to be held in Nairobi, bringing together regional leaders and international organisations, to resolve the conflict in the east of Congo.
The eastern Congolese city of Goma has become the epicenter of a humanitarian tragedy after tens of thousands of people fled an offensive by rebels of the National Congress for the Defense of the People that routed government forces in Nord-Kivu province.
Europe launches diplomatic drive
Europe on Friday reasserted its commitment to diplomacy and political solutions to the violence in Congo but ruled out a troop deployment to reinforce overstretched UN forces in the region.
Kouchner warned of leaving action until it was too late
France, which holds the rotating EU presidency, has proposed sending up to 1,500 European troops on a humanitarian mission to Goma but Britain and Germany have voiced serious reservations.
While calling for an increase in troops, French Foreign Minister Bernhard Kouchner and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana agreed the priority should be placed on providing aid, not fighting rebels. Kouchner added that while military personnel would likely make up the force, its mission would be to help refugees.
"This response in our point of view should be humanitarian ... the name of these tactical groups -- battlegroups -- should not lead you to imagine that we are going to send troops to fight alongside the MONUC," he said, referring to the 17,000-strong UN peacekeeping force already in Congo.
Kouchner said the EU force would only be a small element of a larger, political solution between warring parties in Congo and neighboring states.
Germany questions expanding EU deployment
But Germany remains opposed to the idea of an EU force. German government spokesman Jens Ploetner said on Friday that a 17,000-strong UN mission, MONUC, was already on the ground and said a deployment of EU troops could have "consequences for the credibility of MONUC in the long run."
German Foreign Minister Steinmeier called for Rwanda's help in the DRC
"Those who hastily say that the existing mission is insufficient must expect that that will have consequences once MONUC is back to carrying out its mission alone," he said.
German Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul reinforced German doubts by also questioning the logic behind increasing the EU presence in DRC.
"I personally can’t judge whether a special EU contingent is required to help restore peace in the DRC, whether German troops should be part of such a mission, or whether a larger MONUC force will do," she said Thursday. "But violence has to stop as soon as possible. The international community cannot afford to sit back and simply watch once again."
Kouchner, Miliband to head to Congo
France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and his British counterpart David Miliband were preparing to head to strife-torn Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda on Friday.
Kouchner's spokesman, Eric Chevallier, told reporters in Paris that the pair would visit the Congolese capital Kinshasa and the eastern city of Goma, which is besieged by rebel forces. Officials confirmed they would also go to Rwanda.
"The mission will have several goals," Chevallier said. "The first is to carry a clear political message from Europe to demand that the situation stabilizes and the different actors agree to talk to each other more.
Tens of thousands of displaced people are fleeing the fighting in Congo
"The second is to get an update on the situation of the civilian population. Europe has decided to make an important contribution to the humanitarian effort in Goma.
"Thirdly, we will evaluate the security situation. In this regard, the goal is to study the security dynamic on the ground," he added.
French FM warns of unprecedented African "massacre"
Before leaving for DRC, Kouchner said the eastern region of the country is the scene of a "massacre" on a scale rarely seen in Africa.
"This is a massacre such as Africa has probably never seen, which is taking place virtually before our eyes," Kouchner told Europe 1 radio. "It is out of the question that we let this happen."
A Foreign Office spokesman, commenting before Miliband left for Congo said that the EU delegation was "not going to set unrealistic ambitions for the visit but the fact that they are going illustrates the level of concern."
The EU delegation "will impress upon the leaders of both countries the seriousness of the situation in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (and) the need to engage urgently to find a solution to the underlying problem," he added.
EU-brokered ceasefire in tatters
Though the European Union brokered a peace treaty in January that was signed by dozens of militias, including the rebel group responsible for the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda, the country has slid back into conflict.
Fighting in recent days has led to a stand-off between rebels and the UN, as the latter rushes to aid nearly 30,000 displaced persons in what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is calling a humanitarian crisis of "catastrophic dimensions."
The fighting against the Congolese Army is said to have ended
A ceasefire came into effect on Wednesday, calming attacks, but the latest round of violence had already provoked a crisis for aid agencies, some of whom have moved operations across the border to Rwanda.
EU frees up funding for aid
The European Commission responded to reports of the aid crisis Thursday by saying it would give 4 million euros ($5.2 million) in emergency assistance to help the Democratic Republic of Congo to cope with the conflict in its troubled east.
"We are facing a critical humanitarian situation," spokesman John Clancy told journalists in Brussels. "The commission can announce emergency financial aid of a total 4 million euros."
He said 12 million of the 514 million euros earmarked for the country under the European Commission's 2008-2013 spending plans would specifically go towards helping the population of the war-torn east.
Germany has reportedly contributed 67.5 million euros to MONUC in 2008 and just increased its humanitarian aid for DRC to 5.7 million euros.