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No EU Peacekeepers for Congo - 2004-06-08

A European Union diplomatic source has told VOA that the 25-nation bloc is not considering sending a peacekeeping force to the Democratic Republic of the Congo at this time. The diplomat was reacting to a remark by Belgium's foreign minister that the European Union had agreed to send troops to Congo, and is working out the logistics.

The diplomat, who is attached to the staff of EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, says the Union is monitoring the situation in the eastern Congolese city of Bukavu, and is intensifying its diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the crisis there.

But the diplomat, who requested anonymity, says the European Union has no intention, for the moment, to send in troops because a U.N. peacekeeping mission is deployed there.

He says there is no talk in Brussels of any EU military mission at this time.

Another EU official says the Union does not rule out any options, but still favors a diplomatic solution to the fighting, which has threatened the Congo's shaky peace process and reignited tension with the country's tiny neighbor, Rwanda.

Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel told reporters in Kinshasa on Sunday that EU governments agree on the principle of deploying troops to the eastern Congo, but are unsure as yet on just how to do that. He said a number of conditions still have to be met for a deployment, but did not spell out what those conditions are.

Mr. Michel suggested an EU peacekeeping force could mount an operation similar to the one it deployed last year to the northeastern Congolese town of Bunia. That French-led operation, which consisted of about 18-hundred troops, was launched after U.N. peacekeepers were unable to stop an ethnic conflict that claimed hundreds of lives in just a few weeks.

Mr. Michel also said the 11,000-man U.N. military mission in eastern Congo should be reinforced. The U.N. force did not prevent dissident soldiers from taking control of Bukavu last week, and a spokesman said it is not part of the U.N. mandate to prevent such moves.

The EU diplomat in Brussels says the organization's envoy to Africa's Great Lakes region, Aldo Ajello, is briefing EU ambassadors today on the situation in Bukavu. As many as 100 people are believed to have died there in 11 days of fighting between renegade troops and government forces.