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Europe

German Press Review: Peacekeeping in Congo

France and other members of the European Union are planning to send hundreds of troops for a UN mission in Congo. But Germany should also send troops, the country’s leading papers argued on Wednesday.

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France’s decision earlier this week to bid for leadership of an international peacekeeping force to halt the bloodshed in the Democratic Republic of Congo dominated the leaders in Germany’s top newspapers on Wednesday. If the plan is approved by the United Nations, at least 1,400 blue helmet troops would be sent in order to prevent the kind of ethnic cleansing and genocide that took place in the region during the 1990s.

The editors of the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper in central Germany wrote that the move would send a positive signal for Africa, which is often neglected by the West. "The EU is doing exactly the right thing," the paper wrote. "It signals to Africa that it has not been forgotten. And after the internal conflicts about the war in Iraq, the European Union finally presents itself as being capable of taking decisions and action on the level of foreign and defense policy." The paper also took a swipe at the United States. By sending troops to Congo, the EU also demonstrated "that a serious crisis can be tackled quickly and efficiently while at the same time obeying international law," it concluded.

The Financial Times Deutschland concurred, adding that Germany must send soldiers to Congo, too, if its efforts to reaffirm the United Nations’ authority and push forward with integration of European Union defense policy are to be taken seriously. The Hamburg-based paper demanded that "Chancellor Gerhard Schröder put aside the argument that the army is short of resources," arguing, "It has been used for too long as an excuse for the lack of Germany’s international engagement. And it has disguised the fact that it is not capacities that determine whether or not a military engagement can take place, but rather politics." Sending German troops, the paper’s editors concluded, would be of "high symbolic value," even if it were only with a small number of troops and limited logistical and financial support.

Other newspapers saw the mission as wrought with peril. With a look back at France and Belgium’s colonial history in Africa, the Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung warned that new dangers could emerge from the EU’s engagement in the Congo. "No one knows if the return of the old colonial powers France and Belgium to Africa will even provoke new hostilities there," the editors wrote. The European mission in the Congo could easily prove to be "an undertaking that will cost a lot of blood while only bringing small returns the field of security policy," the paper cautioned. Nonetheless, there can be no doubt about the humanitarian justification for sending peacekeeping troops to the Congo, it concluded.

German newspapers also set their sights on United States President George W. Bush’s peace mission in the Middle East this week -- with some expressing optimism over the outcome. "For the first time in 32 months, a glimmer of hope can be seen on the horizon," wrote the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung. "But this glimmer of hope would immediately disappear if Bush were to give up moderating in the Middle East once his election campaign starts in the autumn." The paper also advised that the Israelis and the Palestinians can’t be left alone to push the peace process forward. Still, the paper expressed hope that the trilateral summit taking place in Aquaba, the Middle East would have fresh hope of resolving the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians -- an opportunity underscored by the fact that Palestinian President Yasser Arafat would not be taking part.

The eastern German newspaper Thüringen Allgemeine in Erfurt, meanwhile, praised Bush for his aggressive negotiating approach. "(T)he U.S. president makes no big fuss about his desire to proceed in the region as unambiguously as he did against Saddam," the editors wrote. "As critics of the U.S. policy, Syria and Jordan were practically disinvited from the summit at Sharm el Sheikh." Meanwhile, Bush had promised to create a free-trade zone to those "who stand by his side."