The German parliament officially approved the deployment of troops to take part in a European mission in DR Congo during planned elections there. It will be the Bundeswehr's first presence on African soil in 12 years.
Should trouble arise, EU troops are supposed to help in Kinshasa
Germany approved the deployment of 780 soldiers to the Democratic Republic of Congo to support a European peacekeeping mission during elections in that country this summer. Five-hundred soldiers will be part of an EU force and 280 will assist in medical and logistical tasks.
The command of the mission, which will consist of 2,000 EU soldiers in total, will be directed from headquarters in Potsdam by German Major General Karlheinz Viereck. France will supply the largest contingent with 800 troops, and a French general, under Viereck's command, will lead the troops.
The length of the assignment is set at four months and will start on July 30, the day the poll will be held. German troops will be stationed in neighboring Gabon. Their primary task, should it be necessary, would be to help in evacuations from DR Congo's capital Kinshasa.
The last time the Bundeswehr had ground soldiers on the African continent was in 1993-1994 as part of a UN mission in Somalia.
Mission purpose unclear to some politicians, soldiers
The Bundeswehr's first African mission in 12 years
Despite clear support from Christian Democratic (CDU) and Social Democratic (SPD) lawmakers, the assignment has not received whole-hearted backing. Parliamentarians from the free-market liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and the Left Party voted against the measure.
The FDP's expert for foreign affairs, Werner Hoyer, said that the coalition did not convince his party the mission would be effective. "The government's application has been prepared in an amateur fashion and is not coherent," Hoyer said. Neither the Bundeswehr nor the Germans in general were in favor of sending troops to Congo, he alleged.
The Left Party's Wolfgang Gehrcke also doubted the necessity of the mission. "We think this mission is wrong, as contradictory and not the right way to stablize DR Congo," Gehrcke said. He demanded that the 56 million euros that the mission is expected to cost be used for construction projects in DR Congo.
Reinhold Robbe, the army's parliamentary liaison, told German ARD public television that the decision had met with outright rejection amongst soldiers. The army was not prepared for Africa, and there were worries about the high AIDS rate and the climate, he said.
Troops will help stabilize country
UN troops have already been deployed to DR Congo
Politicians from both ruling parties have rejected the criticism. Social Democratic party defense expert Walter Kolbow said there was nothing more important than the promotion of democracy in DR Congo.
"Germany has a security interest in a successful stabilization in Congo," he said. "We have to tackle the problems there before the problems come to us."
Only after the democratic election of a president and a national assembly, which would be the first time in 40 years, could the war for the country's vast natural resources come to an end, he said.
Christian Democrat Eckart von Klaeden pointed out that it was not the EU force's responsibility to stabilize DR Congo, but that of the 17,000 UN forces already present in the central African country. They had done a surprisingly good job so far, he said. The EU troops would stay in DR Congo for only a limited amount of time.
A majority of the opposition Green Party voted for the measure but expressed skepticism about preparations for the mission so far. "All things considered, we say that it's right to send German soldiers to DR Congo," Greens parliamentary chief Fritz Kuhn said. Only then would the Congolese be able to improve their lives.