The UN Security Council unanimously endorsed a resolution authorizing the deployment of some 1,250 European Union troops to help the United Nations oversee upcoming polls in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
EU troops will bolster the 17,000 UN peacekeepers already stationed in Congo
The 15-member council unanimously endorsed the deployment of the European force on Tuesday "for a period ending four months after the date of the first round of the presidential and parliamentary elections" in the vast central African country.
The first round of the elections, the first in the former Belgian colony since independence in 1961, had been scheduled for June 18 but has been pushed back to a still undisclosed date.
The EU troops will be tasked with supporting the 17,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC known as MONUC during the period encompassing the elections. The UN mission in the world body's largest and most costly, but is still thinly stretched, according to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who requested the EU's assistance.
The resolution authorized the force to support UN troops seeking to stabilize a situation, protect civilians "under imminent threat of physical violence," help protect the Kinshasa airport, ensure the safety and freedom of movement of its own troops, and extract individuals in danger.
Most of the EU force will be based in Kinshasa
Germany, France provide most support
Germany will contribute about 500 of the 1,250-strong force with another 500 from France while a group of 10 nations complete the force. EU leaders plan to send 400 to 450 troops to the DRC and to keep a further 800 rapidly-deployable troops on standby outside the country, which is struggling to recover from a war that embroiled most of its neighbors and claimed some 4 million lives.
The UN resolution also called on the DRC government to do its utmost "to ensure that the presidential and parliamentary elections are held in accordance with the timetable of the independent electoral commission."
Last month, the EU approved the troop deployment, with officials saying the force would have three key tasks: providing security for international observers, securing Kinshasa airport, and, if required, "stabilizing potentially critical situations."
French soldiers will run the EU's Kinshasa headquarters
German troops to be based in Kinshasa
Though the mission could involve forces being deployed virtually anywhere in the country, apart from in the east where UN forces have a strong base, the German Minister of Defense Franz Josef Jung told the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung that German troops would remain based in Kinshasa.
"The main aspect of the European mission is based on deterrence," he told the paper on Wednesday, adding that he did not expect German troops to be moved outside the Congolese capital.
It is hoped that the elections will mark the end of a volatile political transition in the country that began in 2003 after years of civil war.
Thirty-two candidates, including current DRC President Joseph Kabila, have been provisionally registered to run in the election, the date for which has been repeatedly postponed.