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Europe

Germany Looks Set to Lead Likely EU Mission in Congo

The EU still has a few weeks to decide on whether it will send a small military force to police elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo. If it does, Germany is the member country most likely to lead the force.

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EU defense chiefs are optimistic they'll be able to support the UN in the DRC

At a meeting of EU ministers in Innsbruck, Austria, on Tuesday, countries hesitated to pledge troops to a mission to help safeguard June elections in the DRC, instead calling for more details on what the mission will entail.

German Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung said that the ministers had failed to make progress on the mission, which has been requested by the United Nations to help the DRC through its first free elections in over four decades.

"We were all in agreement that EU representative (Javier) Solana should go to Kinshasa soon to firm up details of what is needed," Jung told reporters after almost two hours of talks on the Congo mission with his EU counterparts.

Berlin to lead?

However, with a few more weeks for the details to be ironed out, Solana was confident on Monday that a small force would be deployed in time for the June 18 poll. He suggested that Germany would be the likely leader.

"I think Germany is very appropriate for this kind of mission," he said.

Jung has yet to confirm comments from Solana and other ministers about a leadership role for Germany, but if Berlin does take the lead, chances are the mission will be small.

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German Defense Minister Franz-Josef Jung

"We have always said very clearly that it must be a combined European effort, there must be a fair distribution," said Jung. "Germany cannot commit to sending 1,500 soldiers."

Jung also set conditions on Germany's participation.

"We think this mission should be concentrated on Kinshasa," he said, adding that "we believe it should run for about four months to see us through the elections and for the government to be formed."

Landmark elections

Starting in mid-June, the DRC is scheduled to hold presidential, local, provincial and legislative elections as it emerges from a war that has killed some 4 million people since 1998 and left 1.6 million others homeless.

Solana said the EU force would be based close to but not inside the conflict-ridden country, which is making a slow transition toward democracy with the help of the UN.

"It's a force that has the character of a deterrent force around the time of the elections," he told reporters at Innsbruck.

"Normally it will not be necessary to use the force," Solana said. "We are talking about 1,000 (troops) over the horizon in case of need."

He suggested the contingent would be based in one of the DRC's neighbors.

"Over the horizon cannot be a thousand kilometers away," Solana said, "It has to be close enough so that it doesn't take three months to deploy."

The EU mission is also of importance to the bloc itself, as it tries to create a defense identity distinct from NATO.

In Brussels, the head of the EU's election observation mission in the DRC, retired general Philippe Morillon, said it was important to help ensure the polls get underway on time.

"If this mission is accomplished, it would demonstrate the EU's resolve to get the country out of chaos and misery," he said.

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