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EU readies military mission to CAR

20 January 2014, 11:01

Brussels - EU foreign ministers are expected on Monday to approve sending several hundred troops to Central African Republic to back up French and African soldiers trying to restore order after bloody communal clashes.

"Unless there is a last-minute surprise, the way is clear" for approval, a diplomatic source said, of a mission limited to 4-6 months and 400-600 soldiers who will take over security at Bangui airport to free up French troops.

For President Francois Hollande, under pressure at home, the decision may prove doubly welcome after he committed troops to France's former colony and then sought EU support.

"An EU deployment now [will] offer Paris both some immediate operational benefits - freeing up French troops - and political relief," said Richard Gowan of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

"It would at least show that the EU has not deserted France completely in Africa," Gowan said.

At a late December EU leaders summit, Hollande had pressed this point on his peers, that France needed their a gesture of solidarity even if they did not want to commit troops on the ground.

Another diplomat noted that getting the force together would be difficult since the CAR "is not on the radar of most European countries."

Britain, like Germany, has offered logistical support for the French operation but has made clear repeatedly it would not send troops.

Estonia makes first troop offer

So far, only the small Baltic nation of Estonia has offered troops, saying 55 could arrive in CAR in February to back up French efforts which had helped prevent a "humanitarian catastrophe."

Poland, the Czech Republic, Belgium and Spain are the most likely to step up next, diplomatic sources said.

At least 1 600 French and 4 000 African troops are in CAR under a UN mandate, trying to end violence between Christian militias and ex-rebels who installed the country's first Muslim leader in a coup in March.

Although Michel Djotodia resigned earlier this month, violence has continued and on Thursday, the UN's humanitarian operations director warned the country risked descending into genocide.

The violence "has all the elements that we have seen elsewhere in places like Rwanda, Bosnia. The elements are there for a genocide, there is no question about that," director John Ging said.

"Atrocities are being committed on an ongoing basis, [and] fear is consuming the minds of an entire population," Ging said.

EU officials stressed however that the mission in CAR would not just be military, with the bloc providing significant amounts of humanitarian and other aid worth some €60m so far.

The CAR's transitional parliament was set on Monday to vote in a new interim leader, tasked with restoring peace.



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