Ban Ki-moon backs proposed European force for DRC

Sunday 30 November 2008

UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-moon told Belgium's Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht that he supported the idea of an interim EU peacekeeping mission until the extra 3,000 troops agreed to for the UN's MONUC force are dispatched.

(AFP) - UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is in favour of sending an interim European force to Democratic Republic of Congo until peacekeeping reinforcements, Belgium's foreign minister said Sunday.

The UN Security Council has approved an additional 3,000 peacekeepers for the Congo mission, but the deployment "is going to take some time," Karel De Gucht told Belgium's VRT television.

"For that reason, the United Nations hopes that an European military force could come and fill in the gap during this period," De Gucht said.

His spokesman Bart Ouvry told AFP that Ban had talked about an interim European force during De Gucht's discussions with him this week at UN headquarters in New York.

The UN secretary general explained that help was needed to ease the humanitarian crisis caused by the fighting between rebels and Congolese government forces in eastern Nord-Kivu province.

"The reinforcement of 3,000 soldiers is going to take several months, and in the interval Mr Ban Ki-moon thinks that an European interim force would be needed," if it could be deployed, Ouvry said.

He added, however, that Belgium would have to see how many European countries would be willing to contribute troops to such a force.

The question is expected to be taken up at ministerial talks next week at NATO headquarters in Brussels, as well as at an Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) meeting in Helsinki.

Last month Belgium and France proposed sending troops to Nord-Kivu province, the central battleground of the conflict, to support the humanitarian efforts of the UN Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC).

Belgium was the colonial power in Congo before its independence in June 1960, while France -- which holds the rotating EU presidency, and which put the resolution for more MONUC troops before the Security Council -- has a long-standing interest in central Africa.

But several EU member states, including Germany, are not in favour of military support -- preferring to back humanitarian organisations and political mediation.

Long simmering tensions between the Kinshasa government and rebels led by Tutsi ex-general Laurent Nkunda spilled over into a new conflict in August, displacing 250,000 people and creating a humanitarian disaster.

Calls for an EU force to help protect civilians in eastern Congo have also come from a group of former world leaders.

In an open letter Thursday, the group, including Nobel Peace Prize winners Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former South African president F. W. de Klerk, urged EU leaders to use their "personal political leadership" to help ease the crisis.

"The situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is a clear humanitarian catastrophe," they wrote, noting that "the peacekeeping force on the ground is currently unable to protect the hundreds of thousands of civilians at risk."





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