African Union plans up to 7,000 troops for Congo
ADDIS ABABA, March 16 (Reuters) - The African Union (AU) said on Wednesday it planned to send between 6,000 and 7,000 troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo to help disarm militias threatening peace in the region, officials said.
The AU said the presence of militiamen originally from neighbouring Rwanda and other marauding gunmen in eastern Congo remained a major source of tension and instability in Central Africa's Great Lakes region.
The AU's Commissioner for Peace and Security Said Djinnit told a news conference the Congo plan was in its early stages and could not give any details on deployment.
Funding for the mission was yet to be secured, he said, calling on the 53 nations of the AU to provide logistical assistance and troops.
The AU's Peace and Security Council (PSC) said the planned force would target an estimated 20,000 fighters from the Interahamwe Hutu militia and former Armed Forces of Rwanda (ex-FAR) soldiers who took part in Rwanda's 1994 genocide.
"The Peace and Security Council has decided that time has come for strong and decisive action by the AU and the international community to neutralise and disarm the ex-FAR/ Interahamwe and other armed groups operating in the region," Djinnit told the news conference, which followed a two-day council meeting.
Last year Rwanda's President Paul Kagame threatened to send troops into Congo to pursue the rebels but was dissuaded after the international community promised to deal with the problem.
The African Union currently has a force of about 3,000 in Sudan's troubled Darfur region and is planning to send troops to Somalia to help disarm militias there.
But the cash-strapped organisation was hard-pressed to field the Darfur force and is reliant on donors to pay for the bulk of the deployments.
The U.N. force in Congo numbers 16,000, making it the world body's biggest peacekeeping operation. The force has given militia fighters in lawless eastern Congo until the beginning of next month to give up their guns voluntarily.
The two-day meeting was attended by military experts from the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda.