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Europe

EU Takes Over in Kosovo, But Won't Commit to Congo

UN peacekeeping is headed towards a crisis due to a shortage of troops and cash, especially in Africa. The EU is taking over a UN security mission in Kosovo, but is relunctant to commit troops in DR Congo.

A French soldier folding a European Union flag in DR Congo

The UN has called for EU troops in the DR Congo, but the bloc is reluctant to commit

The former breakaway province of Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in February, will go from being a ward of the United Nations to being under the auspices of a new European Union-led mission on Tuesday, Dec. 9.

Charged with overseeing the reform of the criminal justice system, the EU is expected to take urgent measures to resolve Kosovo's backlog of war crimes.

"Ten years after the end of the war in Kosovo, the EU-led mission should ensure that the relatives of more than 3,000 disappeared and abducted people are told the truth about the fate of their loved ones and the perpetrators of those crimes are brought to justice," said Nicola Duckworth, head of Amnesty International's Europe program.

Under the EU plan, some 2,000 of the mission's EULEX police force will take over UN responsibilities in Kosovo. EULEX would operate "all over Kosovo," including the Serb-controlled areas, according to a police spokeswoman.

EU takes over from a strapped UN short on troops and cash

Kosovo flag

The EU takes over UN mission in Kosovo on Tuesday

The deployment plan comes at a time when UN peacekeeping is headed towards a crisis with the demand for troops around the world's hot spots skyrocketing. Furthermore UN officials say that the annual budget is insufficient to cover the cost of current commitments in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Chad and the Central African Republic as well as Somalia, where the EU has just launched an anti-piracy mission.

UN peacekeepers may find it hard over the next few years to finance missions as member states feel the heat from the global financial crisis, Fabienne Hara, vice-president of the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think-tank, told Reuters news agency.

"Contributions will probably not grow at the very least, if not diminish," she said, adding that some missions "may not funded properly due to a crisis in terms of resources."

Most of the 112,000 UN troops stationed across the globe come from developing countries like India and Pakistan, with rich Western nations footing the bill for their deployment. The United States for instance pays for 25 percent of the peacekeeping budget, but along with Europe is facing a recession triggered by the international financial crisis.

No EU soldiers to spare for DR Congo

A U.N soldier patrols a street in Goma during the visit of the top U.S. envoy for Africa

UN called for an interim EU "bridging force" for DR Congo

EU states such as Germany, which favor diplomatic rather than military solutions to conflict areas, complain that Iraq and expanding commitments in Afghanistan mean that they have no soldiers to spare for other UN missions, such as the DR Congo.

Over the weekend United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called for an EU "bridging force," saying it may take up to six months for the UN to deploy 3,000 more peacekeepers to Congo to boost its 17,000-strong MONUC force. The EU has a reserve contingent of combat troops, which could be deployed on short notice.

The EU foreign ministers met in Brussels on Monday, but the bloc has been extremely reluctant to commit troops in the DR Congo, a former Belgian colony where some 250,000 civilians have been displaced by the violent clashes between pro-government militias and renegade Tutsi rebels.

Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht did however say before the meeting Monday that there was an urgent need for a bridging mission of 2,500 to 3,000 troops.

"It will take four to six months before the additional troops for MONUC will arrive and the humanitarian situation is dramatic over there," de Gucht told reporters.

Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband also told reporters that beefing up the UN forces was a priority.

Displaced Congolese who fled to the south east of Rutshuru, on the border with Uganda and took shelter with strangers in villages, wait for aid in Ntamugenga, eastern Congo, Monday Nov. 24, 2008. Over 2,500 families received water containers, blankets and buckets and soap from the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development

Aid groups slam EU for not doing more to aid refugees

"Our position has always been that there is… a UN commitment to increase the size of the MONUC foce, so the first port of call is for countries to see whether they can add, either at a planning or operational level to that MONUC force," said Miliband.

Aid groups criticize EU for not doing more

The UN has characterized the fighting in the DR Congo as catastrophic and humanitarian aid groups have slammed the EU's failure to deploy troops.

"We have had a month of every possible excuse as to why Europe will not send forces to bolster UN peacekeepers," said Elise Ford, head of Oxfam International in Brussels in an interview with the BBC.

"Without an adequate professional force supporting UN peacekeepers to provide a measure of security for the population, the killing, raping and looting will continue unabated," she added. "We cannot stand by and watch."

One senior UN Security Council diplomat from a European country said such criticism was valid, but added that it was time for other countries with large, well-trained armies to offer soldiers to the DR Congo and other missions in need of troops.

"We're not the only ones who can do this," the diplomat said. "Where are the Russians, the Ukrainians? Where are the developing countries who want to have seats on the Security Council? Where is Brazil? It doesn't always have to be us," he told Reuters.

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