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German Troops Home for Christmas?

DW staff (nda) / AFP
September 26, 2006

German troops in Congo could be heading home at the end of the year after Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said Monday that the EU's mandate for the DRC should not be extended past its Nov. 30 deadline.

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung meets Bundeswehr troops in Congo
Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung sees no need for further EU involvement in CongoImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said Monday that EUFOR, the European Union Force in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) should not have its mandate extended after it expires at the end of November.

"I believe that the deadline will be upheld and the mandate will be able to be fulfilled during the four-month period set by the EU," said Jung, who began a tour of Africa Sunday in the small Red Sea country of Djibouti.

Germany is in charge of the 1,000-strong force's operations in the DRC, and has 310 soldiers stationed in the huge central African country's capital, Kinshasa, plus 430 in Gabon as reservists for the EUFOR mission.

A further 320 German soldiers are in Djibouti as part of the US-led anti-terrorism operation "Enduring Freedom."

The European Union troops have assisted the UN mission in the DRC (MONUC) during the country's general elections, whose first round took place on July 30 and which are due to end with a run-off between the two leading presidential candidates on Oct. 29.

Incumbent leader Joseph Kabila, who assumed the presidency when his father Laurent was assassinated in 2001, gained 44.81 percent in the poll, under the more than 50 percent needed to win outright. His main rival, Vice-president Jean-Pierre Bemba came second with 20.03 percent.

Recent violence quelled by EU reinforcements

The elections were meant to draw a line under a decade of conflict in the former Zaire, where a war from 1998 to 2003 sparked a humanitarian crisis that killed more than 4 million people. But the elections have actually underlined deep political and ethnic divisions in Congo and tensions have continued to flare.

UN troops restore order in Kinshasa after the election violence
UN troops moved into Kinshasa to restore orderImage: AP

When preliminary election results were announced on Aug. 20, clashes broke out in Kinshasa between the presidential guard of Joseph Kabila and the forces of Jean-Pierre Bemba. The fighting lasted for three days and killed at least 23 people.

The EU has since reinforced its contingent in the capital. Three European helicopters and 60 French, Portuguese and Swedish Special Forces were immediately deployed from their base in Gabon when the fighting broke out, followed by a German-Dutch battalion of about 450-500 men a day later.

EUFOR has stopped new civil war, says Jung

Kabila and Bemba signed an agreement Saturday pledging to make Kinshasa a "city without weapons." However, UN and EU peacekeepers -- including German paratroopers, Polish military police, and Spanish and French troops -- continue to patrol the streets of Congo's capital as the truce holds.

"We have contributed to preventing a new civil war," Jung said Monday.

Jung expressed confidence that the situation in the DRC would remain "relatively calm" after the second round of the presidential election, and said the German soldiers should be able to return home before Christmas.

The defense minister flew on to Gabon late Monday and was then due to travel on to Kinshasa.