According to German newspaper reports, Chancellor Angela Merkel is willing to send troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo to help with planned elections in the war-ravaged country.
UN troops in Congo will need EU support for the elections
Germany's Die Welt newspaper said in an article published on Friday that Merkel had approved a deployment of Bundeswehr soldiers to the DRC because she wanted to send a signal to France that a close bilateral partnership was still at the core of Germany's foreign policy.
Citing sources in the German parliament's defense committee, the newspaper said that Merkel plans to devote between 300 and 500 German troops to a European Union mission to the central African nation.
That would roughly equal the number of troops France was planning to send to the DRC in the EU's effort to help with the upcoming election there.
Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) sent parliamentary deputy Anita Schäfer on a fact-finding mission to the DRC where she spoke with policy-makers and representatives of the United Nations MONUC peacekeeping force.
"If it becomes clear that both the government in Kinshasa and MONUC see an urgent need for an EU rapid deployment force, Germany cannot really stay on the sidelines," Schäfer said. "But the Bundeswehr cannot overstretch its resources, which is why we're thinking more in terms of logistical assistance during the elections."
Pla n s already u n der way?
Die Welt reported that the Bundeswehr is already planning for the mission. The paper said that the German contingent is to be made up of air-transport capabilities, communications experts as well as medical staff and engineers.
The EU agreed last week to help in the DRC's parliamentary and presidential elections, which UN officials believe will be held before June.
The polls, under a constitution drafted with EU mediation last year, are meant to draw a line under five years of civil war from 1998 to 2003 during which an estimated 4 million people died of hunger, disease and violence.
SPD co n cer n ed
But Merkel's coalition partners, the Social Democrats, are skeptical about the Bundeswehr's involvement in Congo.
Child soldiers in the DRC
"I think the Bundeswehr troops would face tremendous problems unlike any they've ever had to deal with -- I'm talking about an armed conflict in which child soldiers are involved," said Reinhold Robbe, senior defense expert of the SPD. "Our troops don't have any experience at all in coping with that kind of a situation."
But for Jason Stearns, DRC expert of the non-governmental organization International Crisis Group, the EU's involvement in the elections is crucial. He said that the United Nations MONUC peacekeepers alone wouldn't be able to ensure stability during the elections.
"There are many weapons that have been distributed to civilians and there are factions who don't want to lose power and who'd do anything including inciting ethnic violence to stop the electoral process," Stearns said. "The only way to ensure stability during the elections is to actually have troops on the ground."