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Germany Expects to Lead EU Peacekeeping Force in Congo

Talks between EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and President Joseph Kabila in Khinshasa this weekend resulted in a spoken agreement over a peacekeeping force that will be led by Germany if the Bundestag agrees.

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The EU is ready to respond to a UN request to back up its peacekeepers in the Congo

A European Union peacekeeping force designed to monitor elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is taking shape after talks took place between the EU top foreign policy official Javier Solana and President Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa this weekend.

An EU spokesperson said that Kabila had shown support for such a mission originally proposed by the United Nations.

Germany meanwhile is preparing to take on a leading role in the mission after EU nations agreed to mobilize 1,500 troops who will be stationed primarily in the capital Kinshasa.

A clear mandate by the DRC president was one of the preconditions for a participation of German Bundeswehr troops in the mission.

Now that Kabila appears to have agreed to an EU force in his country, preparations are also in full swing for Germany to take on a leading role in the peacekeeping operation. German defense minister Franz Josef Jung said that Germany had dropped its initial reluctance to lead the force.

If agreed, Germa n y will head the EU operatio n

Frank-Walter Steinmeier und Franz Josef Jung

Jung and Steinmeier are confident that the mission will be approved

"After 15 European nations agreed to take part in the mission, we are now willing to lead them from our operations control center in Potsdam," Jung said. "Our French partners will be in command on the ground in Kinshasa so that I'm fully convinced that this partnership will guarantee a successful EU mission aimed at preserving peace during the elections."

In December, the United Nations asked the European Union to reinforce its 16,000-strong peacekeeping force to boost security a series of pivotal elections in the country. The DRC, which is still reeling from five years of civil war, has not had free democratic elections in over 40 years. The first round of a presidential poll is scheduled for mid-June.

During the civil war in the central African country, more than 3 million people died and millions have become displaced in their own country.

EU has vested i n terest beyo n d fi n a n cial i n vestme n t i n DRC

Kongo Tote nach Unruhen Militär

Conflict management in Congo may have a positive effect across Africa

The EU force is mainly intended to show Congolese citizens that Europe supports the process of the transition to democracy. German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier told the German parliament that the EU had a vested interest in the country and the region as a whole.

The EU has invested 800 million euros ($974 million) in the process of political transition towards democracy in the DRC.

"The Great Lakes region has seen various attempts at stabilizing war-ravaged countries recently," Steinmeier said. "We have to support them because developments in this region will have major repercussions for conflict resolution and peace building in the whole of Africa."

Any German participation, though, must first be approved by a majority in the Bundestag lower house of parliament. The German government is confident that it will get parliamentary approval for the mission during a vote scheduled for early April.

Critics comi n g rou n d to EU's role i n the Co n go

Armut in Afrika Hunger in Kongo

An EU force would show the Congolese that they are not forgotten

But many deputies in the Bundestag are still skeptical. Social Democrat Rolf Kramer, one of the critics of the Congo mission, has just returned from a fact-finding mission to that country. He says he has now changed his mind.

"My talks with representatives in Kinshasa have made me change my opinion," he said. "I now fully agree that the EU force is necessary to show to the local population that the international community is at their side. And it is important to drive home to those seeking conflict that European troops are there to maintain peace."

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