DR Congo peace force may get EU backup
European Union (EU) defence ministers will seek to flesh out plans today to send an EU military force to back United Nations (UN) peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo as the country prepares for presidential elections.
The defence ministers, meeting in Innsbruck, Austria, also will review plans for EU states to pool a small part of their defence budgets for co-operative research - a move critics have denounced as a threat to national control over military affairs.
The possibility of increased European assistance to the faltering international peacekeeping mission in Sudan, led by the African Union, would feature during the two-day meeting, EU officials said.
A request from the UN for European troops to bolster the 16000-strong mission in Congo has underscored the EU's difficulties in building up its own effective military capability.
Previous attempts to establish a rapid reaction, combined EU force have failed.
Although the plan entails only a few hundred, highly mobile troops able to rush to potential trouble spots for a few months, in this instance as Congo holds its elections, the EU has struggled to find states willing to lead or contribute to the force.
At a meeting of EU foreign ministers last week, diplomats said France, Germany, Sweden and Belgium had stepped forward to lead a possible force in Congo, although some were insisting on strict conditions on how their troops could be used.
Officials were hoping for firmer offers to come from the Innsbruck meeting, although they said much would depend on a debate expected later in the month in the German parliament on the possible deployment of German troops.
EU officials in Brussels said options under discussion included the deployment of 200-450 European soldiers to the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, ahead of the June 18 presidential election.
Up to 800 additional troops would be held on standby outside Congo ready for rapid intervention if there is trouble.