The European Union has approved its first military deployment outside Europe, deciding to send a peacekeeping force to the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is the first EU military deployment without the help of NATO.

Diplomats say EU ambassadors in Brussels approved the mission that is to be formally ratified by EU ministers Thursday. The 1400-troop force, which was earlier authorized by the United Nations, will be led by France. Advance units are expected in Congo this weekend.

Tribal fighting in northeast Congo has killed more than 500 people during the past month. Violence in the Ituri region has killed tens of thousands of people since 1999 and has left as many as 500,000 displaced.

France will provide about half the troops. Diplomats say the rest will come from other EU nations, with Canada, South Africa, Brazil, and Ethiopia contributing as well.

This is only the second such military operation by the European Union, which took over peacekeeping duties in Macedonia last March with more than 300 troops. But that operation received planning and other support from NATO.

Analysts say this will be a major test of EU efforts to develop a military force independent of NATO and to strengthen the 15-country bloc's collective foreign policy. The European Union is building a rapid reaction force of as many as 60,000 troops for peacekeeping and humanitarian missions.

The EU Congo force is taking over from more than 700 U.N. peacekeepers. The new force is to secure the city of Bunia and to protect tens of thousands of refugees.

France says it will also provide air support for the operation with Mirage fighter planes and in-flight refueling aircraft. In addition Germany has offered to provide medical aid and help with transportation.